A 30-year cover-up? How a leading bishop evaded justice for three decades

Credit: ITV Meridian

By John Ryall

In 1986 ITV screened a documentary about a bishop heralded as one of the most spiritual and loving figures in the Church of England.

His name was Peter Ball.

At the time it was viewed as a fascinating insight into the work of Bishop of Lewes, who was running a retreat for spiritually curious young people, some of them aspiring priests.

I watched it again today.

Nearly 30 years on, it has a chilling quality.

In the opening minute of the programme Peter Ball tells his spellbound young audience, who have signed up to "give a year to Christ":

VERY FAR from that, as one victim knows only too well.

He wanted to be identified but cannot be because of a court order imposed at the Old Bailey today.

We will call him Peter.

He was a teenager worshipping at a church in Eastbourne when the abuse began.

It lasted over a number of years. It was highly manipulative now I look back. But it was deeply confusing for me as a public schoolboy taught in the 1970s to respect authority and not question things.

'Peter' - victim of Peter Ball

Last month Ball finally pleaded guilty to a string of sex offences and misconduct in public office after his lawyers failed in a last-ditch attempt to get the case thrown out.

It should not proceed, they argued, because Ball had accepted a caution for gross indecency in 1993 on the understanding that he would face no further action.

Credit: ITV Meridian

Many victims suspect justice has been so long coming because of a high-level church "cover-up".

Peter said: "It is deeply corrupt, deeply sinister - and it must be exposed. The truth must come out about those who protected him at that time."

The current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has commissioned an independent report into how the church dealt with the allegations, which first emerged 22 years ago.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler, the bishop in charge of safeguarding children and vulnerable adults in the Church of England, disputes the cover-up allegation.

There is no certainty that there was a cover-up. We are having an independent review to explore whether that was the case.

The Rt Rev Paul Butler

One of Peter Ball's 18 known victims killed himself.

Tonight as the disgraced former bishop starts his 32-month jail sentence - of which he will serve 18 months - Peter revealed the depths of his despair as he struggled for justice.

"I'll be honest with you," he said." At times I've wanted to be dead."

Credit: ITV Meridian