THE BISHOP of Carlisle has apologised for giving a 'character reference' to a former Cumbrian clergyman convicted of sexually abusing two young girls.

The Church of England is now investigating why Bishop James Newcome provided the reference for former Carlisle Cathedral Canon Robert Bailey, who was last week handed an eight year jail term for the child sex assaults.

The 67-year-old Bishop has now withdrawn his reference, issued a "heartfelt apology", and vowed to learn from the internal church investigation which is underway.

The dramatic turn of events came after the prosecution of Canon Bailey, a 71-year-old Church of England vicar who had served as an honorary canon of Carlisle Cathedral from 2005 to 2011.

Formerly of Brampton, the vicar also worked at Cartmell in south Cumbria and in 2017 he applied to be a duty priest in Loweswater with Buttermere. He withdrew that application after being questioned by police about the abuse he later admitted.

At Swindon Crown Court one of his victims - now a teenager - said his crimes ruined her life. As he passed sentence, Judge Peter Crabtree told Bailey: “The only person who should feel guilt in this case is you.” Bailey abused the two girls over several years.

One was under 13 when he molested her and the other nine.

In a statement, the vicar’s younger victim said: “I get angry a lot and say horrible things but it’s because I don’t know what to do. He has ruined my life.”

The court heard from the mother of one victim.

Her voice trembling with emotion, she said: “This man who’s lived his whole life as a man of God should never be allowed to harm anyone... and no amount of remorse will take away what he’s done.”

Bailey admitted four counts of child sexual assault.

His defence barrister Rob Ross said Bailey was genuinely remorseful. "He had himself been abused as a child but kept the secret hidden for 60 years and was only now getting help," said the barrister.

The Bishop of Carlisle said: "Robert Bailey was a vicar in the Diocese of Carlisle from 1999 until his retirement to Salisbury in 2011 and is someone I have known for 18 years. In April of this year, and at his request, I agreed to provide a character reference to go before the courts.

“On reflection I considered this to have been an error of judgement on my part and asked that the reference be withdrawn.

“I’m truly sorry that the reference was submitted and understand the pain that this will have caused those who suffered as a result of Robert Bailey’s crimes. I offer them my heartfelt apology. I will, of course, co-operate fully with the national church safeguarding team and any subsequent investigation around this matter, as I seek to learn from this situation.”

The Bishop has agreed to temporarily step back from all diocesan safeguarding decision-making while the investigation is underway.

Bailey returned to Cumbria shortly before Christmas 2019 but had no pastoral responsibility locally. The legal process of having him barred from ministry is underway.

No complaints were made against him during his time in Carlisle. His offences did not happen while he was living and working in Cumbria. The Diocese will continue to work with ministry teams in the parishes of Cartmel and Lorton and Loweswater with Buttermere.

A spokesman said safeguarding was an "absolute priority" in the diocese and there is a commitment to transparency and openness to protect the vulnerable in church communities.

The statement added: "It is a matter of deep shame and regret that the Rev Robert Bailey...has been sentenced to eight years and four months in prison for sexually assaulting children. There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place; abuse is a terrible crime and a grievous breach of trust, which has lifelong effects.

"Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who have been affected, particularly the victims and their family.

"We can confirm that the submission of a character reference for Bailey by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Rev James Newcome, and which formed part of a pre-sentence report, is to be investigated further by the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Team."

* Anyone who has any concerns is urged to contact the Diocesan Safeguarding Adviser on If you believe a child is at immediate risk, contact Cumbria Children's Services using the 24 hour number (0333 240 1727) or the police.

* Urgent concerns about vulnerable adults should be referred to your local District Adult Social Care office (details available on the Cumbria County Council website) or the Emergency Duty Team: 01228 526690 out of normal office hours.