An investigation has revealed the establishment figures whose intervention helped a disgraced Bishop evade prosecution for sex abuse for decades.
The former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, groomed and abused 18 aspiring young priests over a period spanning 15 years. He pleaded guilty to charges in September 2015 and was finally jailed in October.
Ball had escaped justice over the same charges over 20 years earlier after he was given support by a member of the Royal family and establishment figures.
The Telegraph reports:
A Freedom of Information request by the Telegraph has led to the release of the letters written by some high profile figures in his support, they include former Lord Justice Anthony Lloyd, former Archbishop of Canterbury Donald Coggan and David Cameron’s late godfather Tory MP Tim Rathbone, who gave Mr Cameron his first work experience in the House of Commons.
Mr Rathbone, who died from cancer in 2002, aged 69, wrote that he found it “literally inconceivable” that Ball would ever become involved with anyone in the way described.
Anthony Lloyd, who was a Lord Justice at the time, described Ball as a “saint” in one of more than 2,000 letters sent to the Crown Prosecution Service and Gloucestershire Police in his support from acquaintances.
“He is quite simply the most gentle, upright and saintly man I have ever met,” he wrote.
“If there is a latter day St Francis, then Peter Ball is him.”
Margaret Thatcher’s former Chief Whip Tim Renton MP said any criminal action against Ball was “far too great a punishment”.
Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Donald Coggan, who died aged 90 in 2000, had ordained Ball in 1977 and said he held him in the “highest regard and respect”.
He wrote: “I have seen a good deal of excellent qualities in his work. I have known him as a godly man, totally devoted to his church. He has had an unblemished record.”
Headteachers from some of the country’s top private schools, including Lancing College and Radley College, Oxford, also wrote in his support.
Mr Justice Wilkie, sitting at the Old Bailey, jailed Ball for two years and eight months for his offending in October.
Ball was first reported to Gloucester Police by novice monk Neil Todd and others in 1992.
But no charges were brought against him after police received supportive telephone calls from “many dozens of people- including MPs, former public school headmasters, Jps and the Lord Chief Justice”, the court heard.
It was also revealed that there had been “two thousand letters of support…including letters from cabinet ministers and Royal Family”.
The member of the Royal family was not named by Ball’s barrister.
Today the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said: “In the matter of Bishop Peter Ball the CPS has not received any correspondence nor seen any correspondence to others from any member of the Royal family.”
On its decision to release some of the letters, it added: “Whilst we appreciate some embarrassment may be caused by the release of these letters we believe this is outweighed by the public interest in accountability under their respective titles.”
While Ball has in his past described Prince Charles as “a loyal friend”, a spokesman for Clarence House said: “”The Prince of Wales made no intervention in the judicial process on behalf of Peter Ball.”
The court has previously heard how the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey had personally contacted the CPS about the case in 1993.
Ball accepted a caution for indecency in 1993 and resigned his position as Bishop of Lewes.
He then became the tenant of a Duchy of Cornwall cottage.
Once there he was given permission to officiate as priest for six months in the Diocese of Truro in 1995, which was extended for three years by the then Archbishop Carey from September 1995.
Reverend Graham Sawyer, the vicar of Briercliffe, in Burnley, was abused by Ball in the 1980s.
He has attacked the Establishment in light of the support received by Ball in 1993.
“It is terribly sad he was not prosecuted in 1993 and it has not served anyone well,” he told the Telegraph.
“There needs to be a full investigation.
“Unfortunately the Establishment in this country is still strong and the relationship between the church and the establishment needs to be looked at.
“We cannot allow the Establishment to collaborate in this way, it is not fit for purpose.”
In 2008 the Church reviewed the case and in 2012 referred it to Sussex Police, who reopened the investigation which saw him arrested and charged.
Ball attempted to avoid justice by pleading unfit to stand trial, and argued his role as a bishop was not a “public office” he finally admitted his years of offending this year.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and misconduct in public office between 1977 and 1992, while he was Bishop of Lewes.
Ball groomed 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.
He told many of them he would not approve their applications to become priests unless they participated.