Cover-up alleged in investigation of episcopal abuse

An English law firm has accused the chairman of the inquiry into clergy sexual abuse of attempting to protect Bishop Peter Ball

Solicitors Bolt Burden Kemp have accused Dame Butler-Sloss, the former chairman of the Independent Panel Inquiry into Sexual Abuse, of a cover up. They claimed Lady Butler-Sloss had pressured their client, Phil Johnson, into keeping silent about abuse he suffered at the hands of the Rt. Rev. Peter Ball (pictured) in order to protect the reputation of the Church of England. 

The retired Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop Ball appeared before the Central Criminal Court – the Old Bailey – last week in a preliminary hearing to answer charges of child sex abuse. On 14 January 2015 Bishop Ball and former priest Vickery House appeared before Mr. Justice Sweeney via video link and a trial date of 5 October 2015 was set by the court. 

Ball was appointed Bishop of Lewes in 1977 and translated to Gloucester in 1992. He is accused of indecently assaulting a 12 or 13 year old boy in 1984 and 1985, indecently assaulting a 19 or 20 year old man in 1990 and 1992, and misconduct in public office.  House faces eight charges of indecent assault for allegedly abusing a boy of 15 and five other men ranging in age from 17 to 34 over a sixteen year period. 

The next day solicitors Bolt Burden Kemp issued a statement on behalf of Johnson, accusing Dame Butler-Sloss of manipulating their client.

In a Radio Four Interview broadcast on 31 December 2014, Lady Butler-Sloss, who stepped down as chairman of the panel in July after claims were made that she was not impartial, stated that she had asked Johnson whether the name of the bishop should be included in the report. She said he had agreed to its exclusion and claimed he was now changing his story. 

A partial transcript of their conversation released by Bolt Burden Kemp, also published on Youtube, purports to show Lady Butler-Sloss saying: 

“What I do need to know is whether you want me to put Bishop [redacted] in it.  And I tell you why I raise the question…..the press would love a Bishop…and if they get a Bishop…. they are going to concentrate on him.  They are not going to concentrate on either Cotton or Pritchard. And since the Bishop didn’t do very much to you…”

She goes on to add:

“I have two reasons. One is, of course, I care about the Church……and I don’t want to give to the press that which is not terribly important in the context of the Cotton/Pritchard story and I just know that if I put a Bishop in, that’s going to take the news. I would prefer not to refer to him, but…..I don’t want to be unjust to you, do you see? And that’s why I need to consult you on it.”

Mr Johnson can be heard responding:

“I think you will have to use your judgment on that, which obviously you are very qualified to do…..Yes, I absolutely see the point you’re making…”

During the Radio Four interview, Lady Butler-Sloss stated that her report had been extremely critical of the two priests, Cotton and Pritchard and that at the time there was not enough evidence linking the Bishop to the abuse for her to refer to it in the report. 

Lady Butler-Sloss, who has not commented on the allegations put forward by Bolt Burden Kemp, is heard to say on the recording that she has no sympathy for Bishop Ball, but does not want the fact of his being a bishop to overshadow the other cases of abuse the inquiry had uncovered.

“And I don’t mind him being humiliated, in fact…..but I just don’t want your story hijacked in a sense, to the Bishop, rather than to what has happened with you.”

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