Sussex church child abuse 'marked by secrecy and avoidance of reporting crimes'

Bishop Peter Ball was jailed for sexual offences. Picture: SWNS
Bishop Peter Ball was jailed for sexual offences. Picture: SWNS

Sexual predators who abused children were able to hide in plain sight for years in the Church in Sussex, an inquiry has found.

Church of England responses to child sexual abuse were marked by ‘secrecy, prevarication, and avoidance of reporting alleged crimes’ to police.

The Diocese - led by the Bishop of Chichester - covers the whole of Sussex

The Diocese - led by the Bishop of Chichester - covers the whole of Sussex

A damning report into the Church in Sussex, published today, found that former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball ‘deliberately manipulated’ vulnerable boys for his own sexual gratification and included ‘naked praying, masturbation and flagellation’.

The Diocese of Chichester – which covers all of Sussex – has seen more convictions for child sexual abuse than any other in the United Kingdom.

The diocese has been a case study for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA).

READ MORE: How former bishop failed to report paedophile priests

Bishop Wallace Benn faced allegations at the inquiry that he had covered up for paedophile priests

Bishop Wallace Benn faced allegations at the inquiry that he had covered up for paedophile priests

Church ‘put its own reputation above the needs of victims’

The inquiry has been looking at how failures in a number of institutions in the UK enabled the systematic abuse of children.

Today the inquiry found ‘serious failings’ in the Church in Sussex.

It said: “The Church of England should have been a place which cared for and supported victims of child sexual abuse.

“Each case study provided examples of perpetrators who were able to hide in plain sight for many years.

“In the Diocese of Chichester, there were perpetrators about whom there were allegations, or even known convictions, who were provided with unrestricted access to children and young people and as a result, continued to offend.

“There were occasions when the Church put its own reputation above the needs of victims and survivors.

“It did not always treat victims and survivors with the compassion or dignity they deserved.”

READ MORE: ‘Wilful blindness’ existed towards Church child abuse in Chichester diocese

Abuse by Bishop Peter Ball

The Diocese of Chichester has seen a number of high profile cases of child sexual abuse by members of the clergy.

In 2015 Bishop Peter Ball – former Bishop of Lewes – was jailed for 32 months for offending against a string of young men.

The inquiry heard that Ball was offered a ‘bolthole’ from the press by four cabinet ministers after his arrest.

The report said: “One witness described how Ball had repeatedly suggested they watched television together naked, as such ‘humiliation’ was part of the teachings of St Francis and would provide a more direct route to a closer relationship to God”

Sussex Police failures

The inquiry found that Sussex Police investigations were not always up to scratch.

The 1997-1998 investigation into Reverends Roy Cotton and Colin Pritchard were ‘inadequate’, the panel found.

“There was unnecessary delay and a failure to explore all lines of enquiry. As a consequence, no charges were brought and both offenders escaped justice at that time.”

Roy Cotton, a parish priest, was convicted of indecently exposing himself to a child in 1954 and given 12 months’ probation.

Cotton died in 2006, at which point he had never been found guilty of other sexual offences, the inquiry heard.

However Baroness Butler-Sloss, who conducted a wide-ranging investigation into abuse in Chichester diocese, said she believed he had at least ten victims.

Colin Pritchard was convicted of seven indecent assaults in 2008, for which he was jailed for five years.

In 2018 he was convicted of further sexual offences and jailed for 16 years.

Inquiry recommendations for change

The IICSA inquiry report today made recommendations arising from the two Sussex case studies: The Diocese of Chichester and the case of Peter Ball.

They include:

- The Church should introduce ‘appropriate guidance’ dealing with safeguarding in the religious community.

“The regulation and management of religious communities should include a mandatory requirement both to have and to follow safeguarding guidance.”

- The Government should amend the law so that clergy are included in the definition ‘position of trust’ under the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

This would criminalise under sexual activity between clergy and a person aged between 16 and 18, over whom they exercise pastoral authority, involving the abuse of a position of trust.

- Sanctions should be introduced for failure to comply with safeguarding procedures.

“Individuals engaged in regulated activity who have failed to undergo a DBS check or complete compulsory training should not be permitted to hold voluntary offices within the Church. Failure by ordained clergy to comply with either requirement should result in disciplinary proceedings.”

- Findings from internal reviews should be sent to the national review body.

Further recommendations will be made following the remaining public inquiry hearings in July, which focus on the wider Anglican Church.

Report a ‘damning indictment’ of years of cover up

Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who acts for a number of victims, said: “This report is a damning indictment of years of church cover up, facilitation of child abuse and denigration and dismissal of victims.

“It rightly criticises senior church figures for serious failings, but it also exposes alarming cultural and structural problems in the Church of England.

“Yet again this shows the urgent need for an independent oversight of safeguarding and a mandatory reporting law to protect innocent and vulnerable people.

“We will be pressing the IICSA to mandate these reforms when it issues its final report later this year”.

Church: 'We take this report very seriously'

The Diocese of Chichester issued the following statement today: “We welcome the publication of the IICSA report on the diocese of Chichester. We take this report very seriously and will now take time to assimilate and digest its detailed findings.

“We are deeply ashamed of the obvious failures outlined in it and apologise unreservedly for the terrible damage that has been done to people’s lives in so many ways.

“We are committed to doing all we can to ensure safety and respect for all vulnerable people, especially children, in our churches and church institutions and organisations.

“Although we are encouraged by the acknowledgement from IICSA of the progressive work the diocese and the Cathedral have undertaken over the past few years to improve our safeguarding practices, we must never be complacent.

"We will continue to work on the development of a different culture in safeguarding, in our accountability, and in ensuring that we always respond appropriately and well to any allegation or report of abuse.”

For confidential support and guidance on issues relating to sexual abuse, contact The Truth Project.

For details visit www.truthproject.org.uk or call 0800 917 1000.