Retired bishop Peter Ball admits sex offences

image copyrightWestern Gazette
image captionPeter Ball served as Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester until 1993

A retired bishop who used religion as a "cloak" to groom his victims has pleaded guilty to a string of offences against 18 teenagers and young men.

Peter Ball, 83, retired Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester, admitted indecent assault and misconduct in public office at the Old Bailey.

Many victims visited his former East Sussex home as aspiring priests or to explore their spirituality.

Ball has been bailed and will be sentenced on 7 October.

The retired clergyman, who was deemed fit to stand trial but has not been well, pleaded guilty to the charges in advance of his trial.

Appearing via video link from Taunton Crown Court, Ball admitted assaulting two victims between 1980 and 1983 and between 1990 and 1991.

'Misused position'

He also admitted misconduct in public office between 1977 and 1992.

According to the charge, Ball committed misconduct by "misusing his position in authority to manipulate and prevail upon others for his own sexual gratification" in relation to 16 young men in their late teens or early 20s.

Details of the history leading to the retired clergyman being charged could only be revealed after Mr Justice Wilkie lifted reporting restrictions.

The allegations against Ball, now of Langport in Somerset, followed a review by the Church of England which prompted police action.

He had earlier failed in an attempt to get the case thrown out after he claimed he accepted a caution for one act of gross indecency in 1993.

image captionPeter Ball - pictured at a previous court hearing in August 2014 - will be sentenced on 7 October

It was argued Ball and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, had been assured by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) at that time that there would be no future action over related allegations.

They were both said to have believed the matter was closed and Ball resigned his post despite Gloucester Police being aware of allegations from two more men.

But the case resurfaced when the Diocese of Bath and Wells carried out a review prompting Sussex Police to reopen the investigation.

The Sussex force later charged Ball with misconduct and a string of sex offences.

Unreserved apology

Following his guilty pleas, the Church of England apologised to the victims.

In a statement, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, said: "We offer an unreserved apology to all the survivors and those affected by this news.

"We commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been."

He said the church co-operated fully with the police throughout the investigation and takes allegations of abuse "very seriously".

One of the men who was due to give evidence against Ball - who was abused by him as a teenager in the 1970s - said he was glad the disgraced bishop had pleaded guilty, but wished he had done it sooner.

"He knew he was guilty and he could have saved me and the other victims the trauma we've been through.

"He tried every trick to get out of admitting his guilt, saying he was too ill to stand trial, so I view his guilty plea very cynically."

Det Ch Insp Carwyn Hughes, from Sussex Police, said Ball had systematically abused the trust of his victims, using religion as a cloak behind which to carry out his grooming activity in order to satisfy his sexual interest and desire for young men.

Ball was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year.

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