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Abuse victim accuses C of E of cover-up

29 April 2016


A PRIEST who was abused by the former bishop Peter Ball has refused to take part in the inquiry into the case, and accused the Church of England of covering up its part in his crimes.

The Vicar of St James’s, Briercliffe, in Burnley, the Revd Graham Sawyer, said that he had withdrawn from the review because it would not promise to investigate what, he says, was “bullying, vilification, and intimidation of witnesses”.

The inquiry, led by the former chief executive of Camden Council, Dame Moira Gibb, was set up in February by the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 26 February). Mr Ball, the former Bishop of Gloucester, was jailed last year for 32 months for a series of offences against teenage boys and young men (News, 9 October).

Mr Sawyer said this week that he had asked Dame Moira to widen the scope of her review, but had not been given assurances that she would.

“What the bishops of the Church of England continue to do is bully, vilify, and intimidate people like me, trying to silence us,” he said. “This goes to the very highest person, the Archbishop of Canterbury, by limiting the remit of this review.”

There had been two crimes committed, Mr Sawyer said: Mr Ball’s abuse of 18 teenagers and young men, and the Church’s “cove- up”.

“I forgive Peter Ball, and I forgive him from my heart. I bear him no ill will. Although it was right he was sent to prison, I experienced no joy in seeing a frail 83-year-old man being sent there,” he said.

But it was the second crime — which he described as both a cover-up and the silencing of victims — that Dame Moira’s inquiry must investigate, he said. As he had no confidence in the C of E to allow her to do so, he could not take part in her inquiry.

“In a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury almost a year ago, I emphasised the need for truth, reconciliation, and peace, but I see no evidence from him that he is interested in this taking place; nor indeed from any other bishop,” Mr Sawyer said.

“The greater the cover-up and the longer they do this, the greater the stink when it all comes out — which it will do. What credibility and honesty does the Church at its very highest levels have if it does not bear witness to the truth?”

Allegations that Establishment figures inside and outside the Church colluded to protect Mr Ball were made public during his trial last year.

When the police first investigated Mr Ball during the 1990s, a member of the royal family, a Lord Chief Justice, and several MPs all contacted the police to express their support for him.

The then Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, also contacted the Chief Constable of Gloucestershire after Bishop Ball was questioned by officers in 1993. In a letter that 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 has denied any knowledge of a Church- or Establishment-led attempt to cover up the crimes or intervene in the police’s investigation.

A spokeswoman for the C of E reiterated the Church’s “unreserved apology” to Mr Sawyer and all of the survivors. She also noted that the objectives of the review included learning lessons about “any other specific areas of Church behaviour and practice”.

“Archbishop Justin has publicly said it is a matter of deep shame and regret that a bishop in the Church of England committed these offences, and there are no excuses whatsoever for what took place and the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball over decades,” she said.

“The review, which started in February and is expected to last a year, will provide the Church as a whole with an opportunity to learn lessons which will improve our safeguarding practice and policy.”

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