Independent review to shed light on Church’s handling of Peter Ball case

24 February 2016

church of england

“Robust and thorough inquiry”: Dame Moira Gibb, the former chief executive of Camden Council, who will lead the independent review of the Church of England’s handling of the Peter Ball case

“Robust and thorough inquiry”: Dame Moira Gibb, the former chief executive of Camden Council, who will lead the independent review of the Church of En...

THE review of the Church of England’s handling of the case of Peter Ball — the former Bishop of Gloucester who was jailed last year for sex offences — will be led by the former chief executive of Camden Council, Dame Moira Gibb.

Dame Moira’s appointment was announced by the Archbishop of Canterbury on Wednesday, after he had promised there would be an inquiry into the Church’s response to Mr Ball’s victims (News, 9 October).

During the trial, which ended in the Bishop’s being sentenced to 32 months in prison for a series of offences against teenage boys and young men, it was revealed that a member of the royal family, a Lord Chief Justice, and several MPs all contacted the police while they were investigating Ball in the 1990s to support him.

The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Lord Carey, also contacted the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire after Bishop Ball was questioned by police in 1993. In a letter, which was released after Freedom of Information requests in January, Lord Carey said that the allegations of abuse seemed “most improbable; his whole ministry appeared to show that he is an honourable man” (News, 8 January).

Lord Carey also wrote that while “‘special pleading’ would be entirely inappropriate . . . the further shame of criminal action seems far too great a punishment” for a man who had already suffered “excruciating pain and spiritual torment” as a result of the allegations.

The Times has reported this week that a C of E priest who was a former police officer held secret talks with the officers investigating Bishop Ball during the 1990s in an attempt to prevent the case coming to trial and causing a scandal.

The priest allegedly sent a report containing evidence of abuse he had discovered to Lord Carey and said that Bishop Ball had agreed to live quietly in a French convent.

Lord Carey has denied any knowledge of a Church- or Establishment-led attempt to cover up the crimes or intervene in the police’s investigation. Ultimately, Bishop Ball was given a caution for one charge of gross indecency and lived for years in a cottage rented from the Duchy of Cornwall, before a second investigation in 2012 revealed the full extent of his crimes.

Dame Moira, who was previously director of social services for the borough of Kensington and Chelsea, and then chief executive of Camden Council until 2011, is expected to complete her review in approximately 12 months.

While her review does not have statutory powers to require anyone to give evidence, Dame Moira said that she expected everyone within the Church to co-operate fully. “Our remit is to independently set out for survivors and the public what actually happened,” she said on Wednesday.

“The Archbishop has said it’s an important opportunity for the whole Church to learn lessons.”

She refused to be drawn on whether her inquiry would focus on Lord Carey’s actions, but insisted that it would be a robust, independent, and thorough look at how the Church had responded to Bishop Ball’s “wholly reprehensible behaviour”.

If it turned up evidence of abuse by others, it would hand this over to the authorities immediately as well as making safeguarding recommendations to the C of E. “Our remit is around Peter Ball but if there are other issues that the Church needs to examine then we will, of course, say that to the Church,” Dame Moira said.

She will be assisted by Kevin Harrington, a safeguarding consultant, James Reilly, a former chief executive of Central London Community Healthcare NHS Trust, and Heather Schroeder, the vice-chair of Action for Children.

In the statement announcing the review last year, Archbishop Welby acknowledged that serious questions had been raised about how the C of E had handled the case. The review led by Dame Moira will look at the extent to which the Church co-operated with the police, and whether the risk of Bishop Ball’s offending again had been properly considered.

Its conclusions will be made public in a report published on the Church of England’s website. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse led by Justice Goddard will also investigate Bishop Ball’s abuse when it begins preliminary investigations into the Anglican Church next month.

Archbishop Welby said: “We have offered an unreserved apology to all the survivors and commend the bravery of those who brought these allegations forward, acknowledging how difficult and distressing this would have been.

“It is a matter of deep shame and regret that a bishop in the Church of England committed these offences. There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades. I hope the review will provide the Church as a whole with an opportunity to learn lessons which will improve our safeguarding practice and policy.”

The Anglican Church is to be among the first institutions investigated by the Goddard Inquiry, which was set up by the Government to look into child sexual abuse (News, 4 December).

A preliminary hearing will start at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 16 March. It will review how both the C of E and the Church in Wales have handled past cases, specifically the Ball case as well as others in the diocese of Chichester.

The Inquiry, chaired by New Zealand judge Justice Lowell Goddard, will also “investigate whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal justice process after [Bishop Ball] was first accused of child sexual offences”, its website states.

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