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Solicitor ‘recklessly disregarded the risk of harm’ when he represented serial abuser Peter Ball

12 January 2023

Christopher Peak has agreed to remove his name from the roll of solicitors

DIOCESE OF CHICHESTER

Peter Ball in 1988

Peter Ball in 1988

A FORMER legal adviser to the diocese of Gloucester, Christopher Peak, who represented the serial abuser and former diocesan Bishop, Peter Ball, in the 1990s, has agreed to remove his name from the roll of solicitors.

Mr Peak, Diocesan Registrar from 1985 to 2012, will no longer be on the roll of the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA). An SRA investigation published last Friday found that he had a conflict of interest when he agreed to defend Ball in a personal capacity after the bishop was arrested and charged with sexual abuse in 1992.

The SRA ruled that Mr Peak had “wilfully or recklessly disregarded the risk of harm” by agreeing to defend Ball while also acting as Diocesan Registrar — whose duties, it says, “were broadly to protect its [the diocese’s] interests and that of its congregation.

“If the allegations against Mr Ball were true then he presented a real risk to the congregation and it was in the diocese’s best interests for him to be removed from the Church altogether, whereas it was in Mr Ball’s best interests to receive as lenient an outcome as possible and return to his ministry.”

Ball had admitted his offences of indecent assault and gross indecency to Mr Peak after the police interview, the SRA report confirms. “In February 1993,” it continues, “Mr Peak wrote to the CPS encouraging them to issue Mr Ball with a caution. He told the CPS that Mr Ball had signed a deed in escrow confirming that he would resign his post as bishop, and assured them that this would be put into effect if he was cautioned.”

Ball was cautioned and resigned as Bishop in 1993. He was not convicted for another 22 years. The SRA reports: “As a result of campaigning by Mr Ball and his brother, Mr Ball was gradually allowed to carry out services within the Church in his capacity as a retired bishop. This included working with children and young men.”

Ball was arrested again in 2012 after a review by the then Archbishop of Canterbury of the case, and new reports of Ball’s misconduct. He was later released, however, after concerns were raised about his age and health. That year, the original complainant from the 1992 allegation took his own life.

The SRA states: “Actual harm was therefore caused to parishioners as a result of the failure of the Church to take effective action against Mr Ball, which is partly attributable to Mr Peak’s inability to advise them to do so because of his conflict of interests.”

In 2015, Ball was sentenced to 32 months in prison for a series of offences, including misconduct in public office and indecent assault (News, 7 October 2015). He died in 2019 (News, 24 June 2019). His case was investigated as an example of the Church’s institutional failings by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (News, 9 May 2019).

The SRA found that the risk of repeated misconduct by Mr Peak was low because he had retired. Besides removing himself from the register, Mr Peak also agreed to pay the cost of the investigation, £1350.

Concerns about the role of Mr Peak in the Ball case were raised by both IICSA and the National Secular Society (NSS). The NSS president Keith Porteous Wood said: “We welcome the SRA’s response to our concerns. The clear conflict of interest led to an unacceptable delay in Ball's conviction, putting children at risk and adding to the anguish of his victims.”

Its vice president, Richard Scorer, represents survivors of abuse in a church context, including victims of Ball. He said: “This case demonstrates yet again that the Church of England has been rife with conflicts of interest particularly when it comes to dealing with cases of clerical abuse. In this case the interests of a senior Bishop under investigation for abuse was treated as being the same as the interests of the church as a whole.”

A spokesperson for the diocese of Gloucester said in a statement that the findings of both the independent review commissioned by the Church and the IICSA investigation into the abuse carried out by Ball “make disturbing reading and it is a matter of deep shame and regret that as a Church we repeatedly failed to act and protect those who came forward for help. There are no excuses for what took place.

“The diocese of Gloucester ceased to take legal advice from Mr Peak in 2012. We remain committed to striving for the highest level of safeguarding in our worshipping communities.”

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