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Lord Carey denies 'cover-up' as ex-bishop Peter Ball jailed for sex abuse

Published 07/10/2015

Former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, 83, arrives at the Old Bailey, London, where he will be sentenced for preying on aspiring young priests for his own sexual gratification
Former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, 83, arrives at the Old Bailey, London, where he will be sentenced for preying on aspiring young priests for his own sexual gratification
Peter Ball is being sentenced for sex assaults

A former Archbishop of Canterbury today denied presiding over a "cover-up" as one of his senior clergymen was jailed for sexually abusing aspiring priests - 22 years after it first came to light.

Lord Carey was head of the Church of England when it emerged that Peter Ball had misused his power over teenagers and young men who had come to his home in Litlington, East Sussex, through a Give A Year For Christ scheme.

While Bishop of Lewes, Ball had hand-picked 18 vulnerable victims to commit acts of "debasement" in the name of religion, such as praying naked at the altar and encouraging them to submit to beatings.

Despite a number of complaints, Ball, who went on to become Bishop of Gloucester, was never charged and even continued to work as a priest in Truro after he accepted a caution for gross indecency in 1993.

Today, the 83-year-old was jailed at the Old Bailey for 32 months after he pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office between 1977 and 1992 and two counts of indecent assault.

Mr Justice Wilkie told him he had misused his position to "persuade selected individuals to commit or submit to acts of physical or sexual debasement under the guise of being part of their austere regime of devotion when they were not".

The judge said: "What you did was the antithesis of what was expected of someone holding your office."

Afterwards, Lord Carey said: "I greatly regret the fact that, during my tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, we dealt inadequately with Peter Ball's victims and gave too much credence to his protestations.

"Allegations by some that my actions amounted to a cover-up or collusion with the abuser are wrong. I have always insisted upon the highest standards of holiness of life from all who are ordained."

Earlier this year, Mr Justice Sweeney refused to dismiss the case on a legal technicality after it emerged that Ball and Lord Carey had been assured in 1993 that there would be no future action.

Giving evidence in court, Ball recalled being told by a police officer "Bishop, it's all over" when he asked for a guarantee that his caution would include all other offences "of the same nature".

On making a phone call to the CPS in 1993, Lord Carey said he was told: "He has resigned. He is out of it. The matter is closed. We are not going to take anything any further."

The court heard that a member of the Royal Family and a host of other Establishment figures came out in support of Ball at the time, although they may not have known the full facts.

Ball later tried to overturn his "plea bargain" because of what he described as the malice of his accusers.

Then in 2008, the Church reviewed the case and in 2012 referred it to Sussex Police, who reopened the investigation.

Shortly after the case was reinvestigated, the first victim to come forward, Neil Todd, committed suicide.

Prosecutor Bobbie Cheema QC said that in 1991, as a 17-year-old novice monk, he had been introduced by Ball to what he called "penitential psalms".

It involved saying prayers naked at night in a chapel before Ball watched the teenager taking a cold shower and pulled down his underpants.

Ball, who called him "love" and "gorgeous", went on to suggest the boy be beaten with a stick or whipped so his body could "bear the marks".

The abuse emerged after he tried to commit suicide in 1992 and Gloucester Police launched an investigation, prompting more victims to come forward.

Ball denied wrongdoing and police received a number of phone calls in support of the cleric, including from "MPs, former public school headmasters, JPs, and even a lord", the court heard.

The defence also claimed to have more than 2,000 letters of support, including from Cabinet ministers and a member of the Royal Family, the court heard.

Before pleading guilty in September, Ball made a statement denying that he had gained sexual gratification from the practices he engaged in with the young men.

He claimed they had been "spiritually uplifted" by his conduct at the time but later felt embarrassed, Ms Cheema said.

He has now completely withdrawn those assertions and expressed "deep" remorse, the court heard.

In mitigation, Richard Smith QC said many people still feel "strongly" in support of Ball.

He said there was some concern about him being a "scapegoat" and there was "punishment on behalf of the Church".

Cambridge-educated Ball, of Langport, Somerset, was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year.

He was said to have many high-profile friends and acquaintances, including the Prince of Wales.

The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has commissioned an independent report into how the Church dealt with the allegations against Ball.

Following his sentence, t he Church of England issued an "unreserved apology", saying: "There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades."

But lawyer Richard Scorer, of Slater and Gordon, who represents a number of Ball's victims, said the belated jailing of Ball was "little comfort" to those he abused.

He said: "It is a scandal that it has taken so long for him to eventually face justice for his appalling crimes.

"But the way in which senior clergy and establishment figures - including MPs, Cabinet ministers and members of the Royal Family - closed ranks around him has only compounded his victims' anguish. This has reinforced the impression their abuse was inflicted upon them with the institutional backing of the Church."

David Greenwood, of Switalskis Solicitors, representing four victims, has said legal action is now under way to sue the Diocese of Chichester.

Of Ball's 18 victims, 12 came forward after Sussex Police reopened the case in 2012.

When asked if the Prince of Wales had ever written a letter in support of Ball, a spokeswoman said: "The Prince of Wales made no intervention in the judicial process on behalf of Peter Ball."

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