'Concern' over Prince Charles's abuse inquiry letter

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Peter BallImage source, PA
Image caption,
Peter Ball was jailed for sex offences against teenagers and young men between the 1970s and 1990s

A lawyer has voiced concern that the Prince of Wales is being treated differently from other witnesses at an investigation into child sexual abuse.

Richard Scorer said there was "surprise and concern" the prince did not have to provide a formal witness statement.

The inquiry into how allegations against former bishop Peter Ball were handled heard a letter from the prince would instead be read out on Friday.

The ex-Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester was jailed in 2015 for sex offences.

Ball, who was Bishop of Lewes, in East Sussex, between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year, admitted a series of offences between the 1970s and 1990s against 18 teenage boys and young men at a trial in October 2015.

He was released from prison in February 2017, having served half his sentence.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is focusing this week on how allegations against Ball were dealt with by the Church of England and other authorities.

Statement of truth

Mr Scorer, who represents some of Ball's victims, questioned the status of the prince's evidence, suggesting it might be "less than entirely frank about his personal relationship with Peter Ball".

He said unlike the more usual witness statement, a letter was not verified by a "statement of truth" - regarded as the equivalent of swearing an oath.

But the hearing was told that the final line of Prince Charles's letter - making clear that the information was true - was considered by the inquiry to comply with the requirements of a statement of truth.

Counsel to the inquiry, Fiona Scolding QC, said the prince's lawyers had argued that the inquiry had no power to compel him to submit a statement.

But she said that after discussions, it was agreed that the prince would provide a signed statement that would cover all the topics that needed to be addressed.

Prof Alexis Jay, who chairs IICSA, announced at the start of the hearing in London that the inquiry would be investigating a leak of Prince Charles's statement after details were reported in the media last week.

She said the leak was "a very serious breach of confidence" perpetrated by "someone with direct access to information in this investigation".

Image source, Rex Features
Image caption,
Former bishop Ball was "not shy" about mentioning his friendship with the Prince of Wales, the hearing was told

Ms Scolding told the inquiry that Ball had "influential friends, both within and outside the Church".

She said Ball, now 86, and his brother, Michael, another former bishop, were "not shy" about using the Prince of Wales's name to influence others in the Church.

She said: "To many people, the actions of the Church and the police, in 1992 and subsequently, smacked of a cover-up: that those in high places had acted to hush up the offending, and that the church had been more concerned to restore Peter Ball to ministry than to identify, investigate or manage the needs of victims and survivors.

"Despite his caution (for an earlier count of gross indecency in 1993), Peter Ball was not subject to any disciplinary measures by the Church until he was prohibited from ministry for life following his 2015 conviction."

She said Ball was not well enough to give evidence, either in person or by video link, but would be submitting two statements to the inquiry.

'Ecclesiastical protection racket'

The inquiry also heard from a clergyman who waived his right to anonymity to give evidence.

The Rev Graham Sawyer, vicar of St James' Church in the diocese of Burnley, said the abuse he suffered at the hands of Ball paled in comparison to his "cruel and sadistic" treatment by Church officials when he spoke out.

He said: "It's an ecclesiastical protection racket, and the attitude is that anyone who seeks to in any way threaten the reputation of the Church as an institution has to be destroyed."

The hearing continues.

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