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Friendship with Prince Charles made paedophile bishop Peter Ball 'impregnable'

The Guardian logo The Guardian 4 days ago Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent

The disgraced paedophile bishop Peter Ball, pictured outside the Old Bailey, London, in 2015 © PA The disgraced paedophile bishop Peter Ball, pictured outside the Old Bailey, London, in 2015 The disgraced paedophile bishop Peter Ball made himself apparently “impregnable” by cultivating friendships with Prince Charles and other senior establishment figures who later rushed to support him when he was accused of sexual abuse, according to a BBC documentary.

Ball, the former bishop of both Lewes and Gloucester who died last year, boasted of his role as “counsellor to royalty”, Cliff James, one of his victims, says in the programme. He cultivated friendships with Margaret Thatcher, peers of the realm, senior judges and headmasters of leading public schools.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pictured with Peter Ball (R) © PA Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher pictured with Peter Ball (R)

The former bishop was investigated by police in the early 1990s, which resulted in a police caution. In 2015, he was convicted of sexual offences against 17 teenagers and young men and jailed for 32 months. He was released in February 2017 after serving half his sentence.

The second episode of the BBC’s two-part documentary, to be broadcast on Tuesday evening, draws on the testimonies of survivors and material and evidence given to the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse (IICSA), which conducted a case study into how the Church of England handled allegations against Ball.

James said Ball boasted of his connections. “He kept mentioning his friendship with Prince Charles in a flippant way, [as] anyone would talk about a friend – but he’s talking about Prince Charles,” he said.

“Here he was having a friendship with someone as low down as me … The next minute he’s dropping into the conversation, ‘oh, he’s counsellor to royalty’. It just reinforced his specialness and the idea he was impregnable.”

© AP The family of Neil Todd, who made the first allegation of abuse in 1993 and killed himself in 2012, said he had been portrayed as a liar and a “mischief-maker” by Ball’s friends in high places.

At a hearing last year, the independent inquiry heard how members of the establishment, including the heir to the throne, the then archbishop of Canterbury and a senior member of the judiciary, rallied to support Ball.

“The story of Peter Ball is the story of the establishment at work in modern times,” William Chapman, representing survivors, told the inquiry. “It is the story of how the establishment minimised the nature of Peter Ball’s misdeeds … and silenced and harassed those who tried to complain.”

Prince Charles told Ball in a letter in February 1995, two years after the bishop had accepted the police caution, which was read to the inquiry: “I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strongly about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you and the way you have been treated.”

Charles later arranged for the Duchy of Cornwall to buy a house to be rented by Ball and his identical twin, Michael, also a bishop.

In a six-page statement to the inquiry, Charles said he had been deceived over a long period of time “about the true nature” of Ball’s activities, but denied he had sought to influence the outcome of police investigations. He said he was unsure whether he was told about Ball’s caution until 2009.

In its report published last year, the IICSA concluded that the church had put its own reputation above the needs of victims of sexual abuse, and that Charles and other members of the establishment were misguided in their expressions of support for Ball.

Part two of Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret, is broadcast on BBC Two at 9pm on Tuesday.

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