Bishop Peter Ball under arrest over allegations

16 November 2012

Happier days: the Rt Revd Peter Ball CGA in 1992, when Bishop of Gloucester. He is seen here with Sr Mary Margaret from the Community of St Peter the Apostle

Happier days: the Rt Revd Peter Ball CGA in 1992, when Bishop of Gloucester. He is seen here with Sr Mary Margaret from the Community of St Peter th...

A POLICE investigation into allegations of child abuse, dating from more than 20 years ago in Chichester diocese, has led to the arrest of the Rt Revd Peter Ball CGA, a former Bishop of Gloucester and Suffragan Bishop of Lewes, on Tuesday. He was later released.

Bishop Ball, aged 80, who founded the monastic Community of the Glorious Ascension (CGA), was arrested on Tuesday morning at his home in Somerset, "on suspicion of eight sexual offences in East Sussex and in one case elsewhere, during the late 1980s and early 1990s", Sussex Police said. He was released on Tuesday afternoon, "on medical advice", and would be interviewed "at a later date".

The offences "were allegedly committed against eight boys and young men, all of whom were at the time in their late teens or early 20s, except one who was 12".

Bishop Ball resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, after less than a year in office, after being formally cautioned by Gloucester Police for "one offence of gross indecency, contrary to the Sexual Offences Act of 1956" (News, 12 March 1993). The offence involved a 17-year-old novice from what was described as "an embryo order". No charges were brought, but a formal caution implies an admission of guilt.

The alleged offences for which Bishop Ball was arrested this week would have taken place while he was Bishop of Lewes, an appointment he held from 1984 to 1992.

Sussex Police said that it began an investigation in May, after Lambeth Palace passed it "two reports from a Church of England safeguarding consultant, which contain reviews of Church files relating to the safeguarding of young people in Chichester diocese during the 1980s and early 1990s". Detectives had also obtained the files themselves.

The investigation had brought to light "allegations not previously reported"; however, "no allegations of recent or current offending" had been made, meaning that there was "nothing to suggest that any young people are currently at risk", Sussex Police said.

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Chichester diocese - which was criticised by the Archbishops' commissaries for its child-safeguarding policies ( News, 24 August) - was "co-operating fully with the police", Detective Chief Inspector Carwyn Hughes, who is leading the investigation, said. "Allegations of historic offences are treated just as seriously as any more recent offences."

The investigation also led to the arrest on Tuesday of a 67-year-old retired priest, the Revd Vickery House, at his home near Haywards Heath, in West Sussex, "on suspicion of two separate sexual offences against two boys aged 17 and 18", between 1981 and 1983. He was released on police bail until 29 November.

Sussex Police announced on Thursday that, during the two days since the arrests had been made, ten more people had come forward "alleging that sexual offences were committed against them, seven by the 80-year-old [Bishop Ball] and three by the 67-year-old [Mr House], mainly in Sussex, during a period ranging from the late 1970s to the early 1990s."

Detective Chief Inspector Hughes said: "We are very interested to see that so many people have contacted us since Tuesday, and every report is being followed up. Anyone else who wishes to contact us is encouraged to do so by calling Sussex Police via 101 and quoting Operation Dunhill. Calls are treated with great sensitivity."

Chichester diocese said that Bishop Ball "has had no ministry in Sussex for many years and no longer lives in this area", and that Mr House's permission to officiate had been suspended.

The diocese also reported that a phone helpline had been set up, staffed by the NSPCC, "for anyone who feels they need support or advice whenever learning of this or any similar cases". The number is 0800 389 5344.

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