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Role of clergy considered under sexual offence laws

A proposal is under consideration.

File photo dated 15/11/1992 of the Rt Rev Peter Ball. David Jones/PA
File photo dated 15/11/1992 of the Rt Rev Peter Ball. David Jones/PA

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

The Government is considering whether to change the law to include the role of the clergy when allegations of sexual abuse are made.

The proposal to include church leaders as being in a position of trust under sexual offence laws is being discussed as part of a review of criminal legislation but a decision is yet to be made.

The news comes after the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) published its findings on the Anglican Church’s response to allegations against disgraced bishop Peter Ball.

A report recommended the Government amend part section 21 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 so that clergy are included in the definition of a position of trust, which would make sexual activity between a religious leader and victims aged 16 to 18, “over whom they exercise pastoral authority”, an abuse of trust and a crime.

In May, IICSA’s scathing report found the support the Prince of Wales gave to Ball after his caution for gross indecency was “misguided”.

The Church of England was accused of “putting its own reputation above the needs of victims” by offering secrecy and protection for child abusers which allowed them to “hide in plain sight” for decades, despite damning allegations against them.

Ball, a self-styled confidant to Charles, was an example of how a senior member of the Anglican church “was able to sexually abuse vulnerable teenagers and young men for decades”, backed by support from senior colleagues which was “rarely extended to his victims”, the report said.

The report focused on evidence against the Diocese of Chichester and Ball, and found “a number of serious failings” following allegations of child sexual abuse dating back more than 40 years.

Ball, who died in June aged 87, had accepted a caution for one count of gross indecency in 1992 and resigned due to ill-health.

It was not until 22 years later that he finally admitted his crimes and was jailed in 2015 for sexually abusing 18 young men over three decades.

He was released in February 2017 after serving half of his 32-month sentence behind bars.

A Government spokesman said: “These abhorrent crimes rightly carry tough sentences, including life imprisonment, and we recognise how horrific abuse of power can be.

“That is why we have been looking at how the law around sexual offences is working, to check that it is protecting young people.”

PA

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