08/09/2015 12:50 BST | Updated 08/09/2016 06:12 BST

Ex-Bishop Of Lewes Peter Ball Admits Sex Attacks On Young Men

A disgraced ex-bishop has admitted sexually assaulting two young men after failing in a bid to get his case thrown out on the word of an Archbishop of Canterbury who was assured the matter was closed 20 years ago.

Former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball, 83, faced allegations of abusing boys and young men in Litlington, East Sussex, in the 1970s and 1980s after a review by the Church of England in 2012 prompted police action.

Earlier this year, Mr Justice Sweeney refused to dismiss the case on a legal technicality based on the argument that Ball and former archbishop Lord Carey had been assured in 1993 that there would be no future action.

Today, weeks before his trial was due to start at the Old Bailey, Ball, who has suffered ill health but was deemed fit to stand trial, dramatically pleaded guilty to misconduct in a public office between 1977 and 1992.

He also admitted two counts of indecent assault on two separate males between 1980 and 1983 and between 1990 and 1991.

Two other counts of indecent assault on a boy of 12 or 13 and a 15-year-old youth were denied and will lie on file.

Ball, who entered his plea falteringly via video-link from Taunton, which is near his home in Langport, Somerset, was granted bail and will be sentenced on October 7 following a pre-sentence report.

Earlier this year, Mr Justice Sweeney refused to dismiss the case on a legal technicality based on the argument that Ball and former archbishop Lord Carey had been assured in 1993 that there would be no future action.

The court heard that, in 1993, the Church of England avoided scandal when Ball, by then Bishop of Gloucester, accepted a caution for a single historic allegation of gross indecency and resigned, despite Gloucester Police being aware of allegations by two more men.

On March 5 that year, his lawyer received a letter from the Crown Prosecution Service stating: "The view is taken that there is sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence available to support prosecuting your client for offences of indecent assault and gross indecency.

"Having regards to all the circumstances, however, the Crown would be prepared to allow disposal less than prosecution - namely a caution for an offence of gross indecency with (a 19-year-old man) as an alternative to prosecution."

Ball's lawyer, Richard Smith QC, suggested the CPS may have settled on the caution to avoid the publicity of a bishop in the dock after discussion "behind closed doors" and not because there was no realistic prospect of conviction.

But he said: "The important thing is what was communicated to this defendant in this decision letter of March 5.

"On the wording they chose, it is clear it was sent to relate to all matters at large."

Giving evidence at that hearing, Ball insisted that the police officer who cautioned him had clearly told him that was the end of it.

He recalled: "After I took the caution I asked very clearly 'Does this include all other offences of the same nature?' before the taking of the caution and I was told very clearly that it did.

"I can remember so clearly I was so glad to get away - to get a guarantee that it was all over.

"That was the last words of the police officer - 'Bishop, it's all over'.

"I was so pleased I went like a rocket down to Cornwall to my brother."

Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, appeared to back up his claim in his recollections of the incident which were read out in court.

On hearing the news of Ball's caution, he wrote: "I was troubled. I did not think this was good enough. I wanted some form of assurance.

"All we had was the resignation of Bishop Peter.

"I was worried that if any other allegations of past indecency were made it would reignite. I wanted some reassurance that this would not be the case.

"I was so troubled, that evening after dinner I went to my study.

"I was supplied with a number of a man at the CPS I believed to be a director. I do not recall his name.

"I rang him and asked what might happen if allegations from the past were made.

"I was told quite categorically that the other allegations would not be taken further as far as we are concerned.

"He has resigned. He is out of it. The matter is closed. We are not going to take anything any further."

The court heard that he asked for it to be put in writing but was refused.

The defendant also claimed that a promise to resign from his post was a condition of the police caution, even though he later explored the possibility of being allowed back to work.

The allegations resurfaced in 2012 when the Diocese of Bath and Wells reviewed the cases, prompting Sussex Police to reopen the investigation.

Last year, he was charged with misconduct in public office and a string of sex offences.

Cambridge-educated Ball was said to have many high-profile friends and acquaintances, including the Prince of Wales.

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

He appeared frail and faltered as he entered his pleas before Mr Justice Wilkie.

Earlier, the senior judge had agreed with Mr Justice Sweeney's ruling against throwing out the charge of misconduct in a pubic office.

He also rejected the defence assertion that the assurances Ball was given in 1993 amounted to an "abuse of process" and also that he was now too sick to enter pleas or to stand trial.

According to the charge, Ball committed misconduct in a public office by "misuing his position in authority to manipulate and prevail upon others for his own sexual gratification".

Details of the long history leading to the former clergyman being charged could only be reported after restrictions were lifted by Mr Justice Wilkie.

In all, Ball abused 18 young men, many of them aspiring priests who he came into contact with through a Give A Year For Christ scheme, Sussex Police said in a statement.

The misconduct charge related for several sexual offences against 16 young men in their late teens of early 20s mainly at his then home in Litlington, East Sussex, between 1977 and 1992, while he was Bishop of Lewes.

The indecent assaults which he also admitted were on two boys in their late teens and also took place at his house. 

Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes of Sussex Police said 12 victims had come forwards since police launched its investigation into concern raised by the Church of England in May 2012 about Ball's behaviour between the 1970s and 1990s.

He said: "It became clear that under the guise of his status as a Bishop, Ball had systematically abused the trust of the victims, many of whom who were aspiring priests, whilst others were simply seeking to explore their spirituality.

"He abused that trust and used religion, through his Give A Year For Christ scheme, as a cloak behind which to carry out his grooming activity, the principal aim of which was to satisfy his sexual interest in and desire for young men.

"We put tremendous effort into thoroughly and diligently investigating these allegations over several years, where necessary even sending officers abroad to interview witnesses and victims."