Saturday 17 August 2019

York Minster's silenced bells peal again after team of ringers roped in

Bell-ringing had been suspended following a dispute with York Minster's Chapter
Bell-ringing had been suspended following a dispute with York Minster's Chapter

The bells of York Minster have rung out for the first time in three months after temporary ringers were brought in following the controversy over the disbanding of the in-house team.

Visitors to the world-famous cathedral had been warned to expect a silent Christmas following the move in October which saw the Minster's Chapter disband its 30-strong ringing group due to safeguarding concerns.

This provoked a storm of controversy, with one group of campanologists, from Leeds, reportedly refusing to help out in solidarity with their sacked York colleagues.

But the Chapter provided a robust defence of its decision and said some of those who wanted to help them had been subjected to online intimidation.

A team was assembled for the traditional service of Nine Lessons and Carols at the Minster on Thursday evening.

The Chapter said this is one of the cathedral's most popular services of the Christmas season and the team brought in was made up of experienced ringers from across Yorkshire.

The Dean of York, the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, said: " We are grateful to the ringers of Yorkshire for kindly providing such a wonderful festive welcome for worshippers to the cathedral tonight."

Last week, the Chapter issued a detailed statement explaining how it disbanded the team after the ringers refused to accept its decision not to reinstate one of its members, who had been suspended following a police investigation into allegations of sex offending against children which did not lead to a prosecution.

This member has not been named by the Chapter but is understood to be David Potter, a leading light of the campanology world, who was given an MBE for his services to bell-ringing and has never been convicted of any offences.

Mr Potter was the subject of a police investigation in 1999 which was reviewed again in 2014 but he was never charged.

The Chapter of York Minster ordered a detailed risk assessment of Mr Potter's activities and decided he "presented an ongoing risk and that the potential severity of the risk meant they could not be reinstated".

It said the bellringers refused to accept this decision and so had to be disbanded.

In October, Mr Potter's solicitor, Colin Byrne, said: "Mr Potter has no cautions or convictions or any civil findings ever made against him.

"Issues surrounding the bell-ringers and the Minster is a private and confidential matter between those two parties but the process that he has been subject to has shown a disregard for due process and equally the treatment of his fellow bell-ringers."

The decision to disband the bell-ringers and recruit a new team in the New Year caused outrage among supporters in October and led to the Minster admitting at the time that the bells would be silent over Christmas.

But it was supported by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.

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