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  1. ITV Report

'Deeply corrupt' Church of England tried to silence me, abuse victim claims

Peter Ball, 83, admitted abusing young men from the 1970s to 1990s.

By Rebecca Barry: ITV News Correspondent

The Church of England has announced it will investigate claims that senior clerics helped cover-up sex crimes committed by a former Bishop.

Peter Ball, 83, will be sentenced at the Old Bailey this week after admitting a string of offences against young men from the 1970s to 1990s. But his victims claim, for decades, the Church of England prevented him from facing justice.

Graham Sawyer, who was abused by Ball when he was a teenager tells ITV News the church's behaviour had been “deeply corrupt, deeply sinister and it must be exposed".

"The truth must come out about those who protected him at that time,” he adds.

Sawyer, now a vicar, was a victim of Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes, during the 1970s.

Here was this man who ostensibly was deeply spiritual, was heralded by people as one of the most spiritual and loving Bishops in the Church of England, who was basically asking me for sex or, at the very least, trying to get me to take my clothes off and when I wouldn’t, taking them off my back.

– Graham Sawyer

Last month, Ball admitted that between 1977 and 1992 he misused his position in authority to "manipulate" 16 men for his own sexual gratification.

He also admitted indecently assaulting two men in their late teens between 1980 and 1983 and between 1990 and 1991.

Sawyer claims the discrediting of victims 'endures' at the 'highest levels' of the Church. Credit: ITV News

But during the pre-trial hearings it emerged that there had been an opportunity to prosecute him 22 years earlier.

In 1993, the Crown Prosecution Service said there was "sufficient admissible, substantial and reliable evidence" of indecent assault and gross indecency.

Ball was only given a caution, following talks between clerics, police and prosecutors, and Sawyer claims attempts have been made to silence the victims.

For the last 30 years the Church has sought to shut me up, if I ever put my head above the parapet they would shoot me down, they ensured, or so they thought, that I would never get ordained, which is why I had to go to the other side of the world to do so.

– Graham Sawyer

"At times I've actually wanted to be dead," he said of the ordeal. "It was just so appalling and if it were not for the support of good friends I don't think I'd be speaking to you today."

The Church says it is launching an independent review into abuse allegations.

Today a Church of England spokesman said: "Since Peter Ball's guilty plea questions have been raised about the Church's handling of this case.

"As a result the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has today commissioned an independent review of the way the Church responded.

"The independent review will examine the Church of England's co-operation with the police and other statutory agencies and the extent to which it shared information in a timely manner, identifying both good practice and shortcomings alike.

"It will also assess the extent to which the Church both properly assessed the possible risk that Bishop Ball might pose to others and responded adequately to concerns and representations submitted by survivors."

Sawyer waived his anonymity to speak out against abuse. Credit: ITV News

But Graham Sawyer says the Church should no longer be allowed to police itself after what he believes to be previous failures.

Victim support group Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors said they "cautiously" welcomed the announcement of the independent review, but said it "must be afforded complete, unrestricted access to all of the evidence".

A spokesman for the group said: "We do not accept that the Church were proactive in initiating the investigation, it has held information on Peter Ball for many years and has failed to share it with previous investigations, even questioning the honesty of survivors and publicly stating that the allegations against Peter Ball were false.

"The survivors of Peter Ball have been repeatedly let down by the church, and now is the time for the archbishop to demonstrate a strong commitment to changing the culture of abuse and the poor responses given to survivors within his institution."

Peter Ball will be sentenced at the Old Bailey on Wednesday 7 October.