Sex abuse public inquiry begins investigation into Church of England

Justice Lowell Goddard, of New Zealand, at Portcullis House, Westminster, LondonReuters

The unprecedented public inquiry into child sex abuse in Britain this morning began investigating the record of the Church of England.

The inquiry began hearing evidence just one day after a damning review revealed a shocking failure by the Church to investigate credible allegations of sex abuse.

The five-year inquiry is to focus first on the country's Anglican and Catholic churches, as well as local authorities and public institutions and people of "public prominence".

Lord Carey pictured in 2001 when he was Archbishop of Canterbury.Reuters

The inquiry heard a claim that a former Archbishop of Canterbury failed to pass on an allegation about convicted former Bishop of Gloucester Peter Ball to police.

This was even though a victim, "A13", wrote to him as far back as 1992 describing what had happened to him, the preliminary hearing of Justice Lowell Goddard's inquiry was told. 

Ball escaped prosecution for another 20 years. He was finally sent to prison last year for 32 months after he admitted abuse of 18 young men between 1977 and 1992.

Richard Scorer of Slater and Gordon said A13 had known Bishop Ball through his family. He wrote to the Archbishop, now Lord Carey of Clifton, describing how he had been abused. The "very detailed" claims were not passed on to police. 

Scorer told the inquiry: "We believe that George Carey failed to pass that information on to the police and that was one reason why a proper investigation into Bell's activities was delayed by over 20 years."

A spokesman for the former Archbishop said he had no recollection of receiving the allegation to which Scorer referred nor any other knowledge of Scorer's claims.

It was recently revealed that in 1993, when Ball was being investigated, Lord Carey wrote to the director of public prosecutions in support of the bishop. Ball was not prosecuted but merely cautioned, and resigned as Bishop of Gloucester. 

Letter from then-Archbishop George Carey supporting Peter BallCPS

Also last year, the Church apologised and paid compensation to a victim of former Bishop of Chichester George Bell. That survivor had reported the abuse 20 years earlier but once again her complaint was not referred to the police or investigated.

Bishop of Durham Paul Butler, who is the lead bishop on safeguarding, said: "We welcome the plans outlined in today's preliminary hearing by Justice Goddard, for the Anglican Church, as it examines the extent to which institutions and organisations in England and Wales have taken seriously their responsibility to protect children.

"As a church we will be offering full cooperation and are committed to working in an open and transparent way, with a survivor-informed response. We are already reviewing our 2008 Past Cases Review, referred to in today's hearing.

"We commend those survivors who have come forward as core participants or who are contributing to the Truth Project, knowing how costly it will be to relive their experiences. It goes without saying we will examine lessons learnt from the Inquiry's findings and believe it will play a vital part in our commitment to making the Church a safer place for all.

"The true cost of child abuse and the abuse of adults at risk is far higher than any of us have ever been prepared to acknowledge in terms of the mental, emotional, social and physical health and well-being of very large numbers of our population."