Peter Ball – the on-going legacy

In 2015, Peter Ball, the former Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, was jailed at the Old Bailey for sexual offences against 18 young men over three decades, the circumstances of which have been the subject of inquiries within the Church of England and externally. BBC2 broadcast the documentary, Exposed: The Church’s Dark Secret, on the Peter Ball case for 13 and 14 January 2020. This post reviews the legal issues that have arisen in the case of Peter Ball, and comments on related ongoing enquiries and the legal implications for the Church.

The BBC 2 documentary

The two parts of the documentary The Church’s Dark Secret  comprised:

Episode 1: The story of the decades-long pursuit of Bishop Peter Ball by those brave individuals determined to bring him to justice, and the cover-up that went to the highest levels of the Church of England.

Episode 2: The net tightens around Bishop Peter Ball as investigators uncover a conspiracy at the top of the Church of England to protect him. Emotional interviews and dramatic reconstruction.

Prior to the broadcast the Church of England issued a press release which states inter alia that it has supported a number of people, at their request, who have given interviews to the programme, but no official comment has been requested from the Church. After the documentary had been aired, it issued the Press Release which is reproduced below.

Timeline of events

The public hearing of the Independent Inquiry Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) into the Peter Ball case study took place 23-27 July 2018; the IICSA investigated inter alia whether there were inappropriate attempts by people of prominence to interfere in the criminal justice process after he was first accused of child sexual offences.

We reviewed this aspect of the IICSA investigation into the Church of England in a three-part post, Peter Ball – legislation, then and now: Part I of the post considered the issues surrounding the appointment of Peter Ball as a diocesan bishop and his subsequent Permission to Officiate (PTO); Part II looked at the issue of a police caution and its implications; the sanctions applicable to bishops; misconduct in public office; and mandatory reporting; and Part III considered the closing statements, and work which was then on-going.

A summary of the timeline of events was included in Part I, which has now been updated and is reproduced below. The information used was sourced from the Gibb Report, transcripts of the IICSA hearing, and elsewhere.

1977-1992: Peter Ball was suffragan bishop of Lewes, and became area bishop in 1984.

1992: Ball was translated to Diocesan Bishop of Gloucester, though he was not the first choice of the Crown Appointments Commission at its meeting in 1991, IICSA Document CAB000013.

1993: Ball resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993 after admitting to an act of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man and accepting a formal police caution. The circumstances associated with the issue of this caution were examined in the IICSA report, page 153. This triggered a significant number of letters in support of Ball.

1995: Ball was granted permission to officiate as a priest by Archbishop Carey for a period of three years at All Saints, Falmouth and in the Parish of Feock, both in the Diocese of Truro, subject to the consent of the incumbent and the bishop, IICSA Paper ACE000982.

The evidence of Bishop Frank Sargeant indicated that Ball was given “some form of ‘provincial permission’ relating to the Southern Province”, IICSA Public Hearing Transcript of 26 July, page 204, line 23 & seq.

2001: Consideration was given to Ball’s role in church by Lambeth Palace: there was acknowledgement that Ball had been taking school confirmations; Archbishop Carey to be informed “when he is to be involved in episcopal duties”. However these activities “did not accord with him being appointed as an assistant bishop”, IICSA Paper ACE026342.

2015: The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, announced an independent review of the handling of Peter Ball case, (the Gibb Report), following Ball pleading guilty to charges, infra. Report and Comment here;

2015: On 7 October, Ball sentenced to 32 months for misconduct in public office and 15 months for indecent assaults, to run concurrently. Ball, then 83, had pleaded guilty to charges of misconduct in public office between 1977 and 1992, indecent assault on a boy aged 12 or 13 in 1978 and indecent assault on a man aged 19 or 20 between 1980 and 1982. Report and Comment here;

2015: Further charges of indecently assaulting two boys, aged 13 and 15, were allowed to lie on file in a contentious decision by the CPS. Guardian article, Tue 8 Sep 2015, here.

2017: February, Ball was released on licence.

2017: June, the Gibb Report, An Abuse of Faith – The Independent Peter Ball Review was published.

2017: June, Lord Carey resigned as honorary assistant bishop in the Diocese of Oxford at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, following strong criticism in the Gibb Report. Press Statement, Diocese of Oxford.

2018: February. The Diocese of Oxford granted Permission to Officiate (PTO) to George Carey “to preach and preside in the church where he worships, a church where his ministry is much valued”. Reported 13 July in The Guardian and Thinking Anglicans.

2018: 5 March. Government published its plans to strengthen information sharing as part of government’s ambition to tackle child abuse and neglect,  Government outlines strengthened plans to tackle child abuse but these reject mandatory reporting.

2018: 5-23 March, IICSA Public Hearings, Child Sexual Abuse in the Anglican Church.

2018: 6-10 June, Church of England General Synod.

2018: 20 July, House of Bishops Policy on Granting Permission to Officiate published.

2018: 23-27 July, IICSA Public Hearing – Peter Ball case study, as discussed above.

2018: 27 July, Lord Carey PTO: statement from the Rt Revd Dr Steven Croft, Bishop of Oxford.

2019: 9 May, IICSA Anglican Church Case Studies – Chichester, Peter Ball Investigation Report.

2019: 29 June, Church of England response to IICSA report.

2019: I July, publication of Letters to a Broken Church, Eds Janet Fife and Gilo.

2019: 1-12 July, IICSA Public Hearing in Anglican Church investigation – Week 1 and Week 2. The IICSA is expected to produce its report by summer 2020.

2019: 5-9 July, Church of England, General Synod at which mandatory reporting was discussed.

2020: 13-14 January, BBC2 two-part documentary Exposed: The Church’s Dark Secret, reported in this post.


In addition to the investigations into Peter Ball, there are on-going reviews into the late John Smyth QC and The Revd Jonathan Fletcher:

2019: 13 August, CofE commissions review into Smyth case. The Church’s National Safeguarding Team has commissioned Keith Makin to undertake a review into the Church’s handling of allegations relating to the conduct of the late John Smyth QC. The Review will focus on two related but distinct questions: (1) what did the Church of England (i.e. relevant officers and institutions) know about alleged abuse perpetrated by John Smyth, and (2) what was the response of the Church of England to those allegations. Work on the Review will commence on 19 August 2019, and it is anticipated that it will be completed within no more than nine months.

2019: 5 December, Thirtyone:eight was commissioned by Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon to undertake an independent lessons learnt review concerning Jonathan Fletcher and Emmanuel Church to be led by Dr Lisa Oakley. Focusing on the activities of Mr Fletcher while he was minister of Emmanuel, Thirtyone:eight was commissioned to undertake a robust and comprehensive exploration of both good practice and failings in culture and safeguarding practice at Emmanuel Church Wimbledon from 1982 to the present.

The IICSA Inquiry was established as an independent statutory inquiry on 12 March 2015 by the then Home Secretary; under the s 21 Inquiries Act 2005 the Chair is empowered to require organizations and individuals to give evidence. In contrast, the above two reviews cannot compel witnesses to appear, as we indicated here.

Press Release – Response to BBC 2 documentary on Peter Ball

A statement from Bishop Peter Hancock, Church of England lead safeguarding bishop:

“The powerful BBC documentary Exposed: the Church’s Darkest Secret is a stark and important reminder of the serious sexual wrongdoing of Peter Ball against many young men, including Neil Todd who took his own life, and the complete failure of the Church to respond appropriately over a period of many years.

“Both the Gibb Report, An Abuse of Faith, commissioned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the 2018 IICSA hearing into the case, highlighted our failings and the bravery of those who were prepared to speak out. The documentary brings home in a graphic way the courage of the survivors who shared their story.

“It is a matter of great shame and regret that the Church did not act to address the behaviour of Peter Ball at the time and that survivors were left to fight tirelessly for justice.

“As a Church we are committed to implementing the recommendations in the Gibb Report and those from the IICSA report. But we are aware that for the survivors, it may feel that this is all too late.

“I know from my meetings with victims and survivors that the effects of abuse are lifelong and we must never forget this. We recognise that there are survivors who have never spoken out and who may still want to come forward; we would urge them to do so.

“There is much that is being written and said about accountability and the culture of deference in the Church and it is clear that change has been too slow. We are committed to making these changes and ensuring that the Church is a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

“I once again offer all survivors a wholehearted apology and applaud their bravery in coming forward which continues to hold us to account.

“Anyone affected should please contact at the National Safeguarding Team.“

Updated 5 January 2020, 08:00.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "Peter Ball – the on-going legacy" in Law & Religion UK, 13 January 2020,

2 thoughts on “Peter Ball – the on-going legacy

  1. The summary timeline is useful: thankyou, David.

    We should know by the end of the week (when the full agenda is due to be published) whether there will be a debate at General Synod next month about the IICSA report of May 2019 following the Chichester and Peter Ball case studies in 2018. At present, the only information (in the timetable issued on 13 December 2019, following the Business Committee meeting the previous day) is that there is to be a safeguarding item on the Wednesday morning, 12th February, billed as “Safeguarding: response to recommendations in IICSA May 2019 Investigation Report.” However, those recommendations (five in all: see pages 206-207) are limited to discrete issues arising from Chichester and Ball, and do not include the wider issues, discussed during the final hearing in July 2019, of independent investigations and mandatory reporting.

    Re Peter Ball not being the first choice of the CAC for the see of Gloucester in 1992 and Robin Catford influencing John Major to recommend the Queen to appoint Ball, the redactions in Catford’s letter to Major of 25 October 1991 (IICSA document CAB000013) are not very clever. Working on the information that has not been redacted and calculating (by the length of the spaces) the number of letters in the name that has been redacted, it is easy to work out that the candidate preferred by the CAC was the then suffragan bishop of Wolverhampton, the Rt Revd Christopher Mayfield. Mayfield was appointed Bishop of Manchester in 1993, retiring in 2002. George Carey was clearly very annoyed by what he learned of Catford’s behaviour during the IICSA hearing in July 2018: see transcript, 24 July 2018, pages 45-47 where (at pp.46/24-47/3) Carey says that he found the Catford letter (only supplied to the Inquiry by the Cabinet Office the previous week: see transcript pp.37/21-38/4) “very deeply disturbing,” adding: “I didn’t know this was going on, so very clearly the secretary was influencing the mind of the Prime Minister and going beyond his responsibilities. I find this quite appalling.”

  2. Pingback: Law and religion round-up – 19th January | Law & Religion UK

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