Retired bishop Peter Ball jailed for sex assaults
A retired Church of England bishop has been jailed for a string of offences against teenagers and young men.
Peter Ball, 83, was sentenced to 32 months for misconduct in public office and 15 months for indecent assaults, to run concurrently.
The former Bishop of Lewes and Bishop of Gloucester used "religion as a cloak" to carry out the abuse between the 1970s and 1990s, the court heard.
The Church of England said there were "no excuses".
Before Ball was sentenced, the Old Bailey heard a member of the Royal Family and other establishment figures backed Ball while he tried to avoid charges of sexually abusing young aspiring priests in the early 1990s.
Clarence House denial
Bobbie Cheema QC, prosecuting, said during the investigation police received 2,000 letters of support for the bishop, including backing from a royal figure and cabinet ministers.
Ball was cautioned for one act of gross indecency in 1993 against 16-year-old trainee monk Neil Todd and resigned, but was allowed to work in churches until 2010.
"I should make it clear that it is impossible to say whether those letters were encouraged and it is unlikely that those who wrote were in possession of the full facts," Ms Cheema added.
A statement released by Clarence House after the hearing said: "The Prince of Wales made no intervention in the judicial process on behalf of Peter Ball."
Sentencing Ball, Mr Justice Wilkie, said the retired bishop was man who did "so much good and so much harm".
He told the disgraced clergyman he used his position of authority 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".
"What you did was the antithesis of what was expected of someone holding your office."
Ms Cheema said Ball was "highly regarded as a Godly man who had a special affinity with young people".
She added: "The truth was that he used those 15 years in the position of bishop to identify, groom and exploit sensitive and vulnerable young men who came within his orbit.
"For him, religion was a cloak behind which he hid in order to satisfy his sexual interest in those who trusted him."
Victims of the retired bishop described him as a sadistic predator who groomed, controlled and abused them.
Ball, of Langport in Somerset, was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year.
Last month he admitted offences against 18 teenagers and young men in the 1970s, 80s and 90s. He was also ordered to be placed on the sex offenders' register for 10 years.
Det Ch Insp Carwyn Hughes, of Sussex Police, said the force's investigation uncovered "systematic offending" by Ball whose principal aim was "to satisfy his sexual interest in and desire for young men".
Following the sentencing, the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Rev Paul Butler, said "the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated" by Ball was a "matter of deep shame and regret".
"We apologise unreservedly to those survivors of Peter Ball's abuse and pay tribute to their bravery in coming forward and also the long wait for justice that they have endured."
"We also remember Neil Todd, whose bravery in 1992 enabled others to come forward but who took his own life before Peter Ball's conviction or sentencing."
'Failed many victims'
The Church of England has commissioned an independent review into the way it responded to sex offence allegations against the bishop.
The Archbishop of Canterbury in 1993, George Carey - now Lord Carey - said he greatly regretted that during his tenure the church "dealt inadequately with Peter Ball's victims and gave too much credence to his protestations".
He added: "Allegations 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.
"But it is undoubtedly the case that in the years since the allegations came to light, the Church of England has needed to put into place much better procedures, as have all public institutions in society, to ensure that victims receive justice speedily and properly."
He said in the past the church had "failed many victims" but he hoped it was now a safer place for the young and vulnerable.
The Right Reverend Mark Sowerby, Bishop of Horsham, expressed "abhorrence and deep regret at Peter Ball's behaviour" and said it had been a "key priority to support many of those" who had given evidence against him.