Peter Ball, 83, the former Bishop of Gloucester, has pleaded guilty to a string of sex offences against 18 teenagers and young men over a period of 15 years between 1977 and 1992.
Appearing via video link from Taunton Crown Court, the retired Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester admitted misconduct in public office by “misusing his position and authority to manipulate and prevail upon others for his own sexual gratification.”
Ball avoided a trial by admitting the offences in a plea bargain deal under which two charges of indecent assault on two boys aged under 16 were left ‘on file.’ Counsel for the prosecution told the Old Bailey that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was “satisfied a trial of these two counts is not required in the public interest”.
It is the second time the disgraced clergyman has been at the centre of an out-of-court agreement to avoid a criminal trial.
In 1993 the CPS allowed him to escape trial and public scrutiny with a caution for a single act of gross indecency despite accepting that there was “sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence” for him to stand trial on a number of offences of indecent assault and gross indecency.
As part of an unwritten agreement, Ball resigned his post as bishop and went into retirement despite Gloucester Police being aware of allegations from two more victims.
This was done with the knowledge of George Carey, the then archbishop of Canterbury, who in statements submitted to the court in the pre-trial hearings of Ball’s case, said he had been assured by a senior CPS director that Ball’s caution meant if other allegations from the past surfaced against the bishop, they would not be pursued.
The CPS has denied the caution issued to Ball represented immunity from further prosecutions in the event more allegations emerged.
The new charges against Ball arose after the Diocese of Bath and Wells carried out a review of archive files on the former bishop, prompting Sussex police to re-open their 2012 investigation.
Many of Ball’s victims visited his former East Sussex home as aspiring priests. Others volunteered for his “Give a Year for Christ” scheme when he was Bishop of Lewes in the Diocese of Chichester. The unusual charge brought against Ball was used because some of his offences involved grooming and coercion rather than incidents of assault.
Since 1993, Ball’s name has appeared in at least three police investigations into sexual abuse by Church of England priests. Allegations against him have also emerged in at least three official enquiries into child protection failures in the diocese of Chichester.
From the moment he was charged in 2014, Ball has claimed he was too ill to be interviewed or stand trial. His victims, many of whom it is believed have never come forward, have fought for more than 20 years to see him face justice. Tragically, one of his victims took his own life shortly after the investigation opened.
Richard Scorer, Head of the Abuse Team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers and author of Betrayed, said, “The independent child abuse inquiry should examine the history of Ball’s case as a priority. The plea deal Ball has been allowed to escape with has only reinforced the real sense of frustration and anger that so many of his victims have had for so many years.”
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