Bishop 'filleted' clergy files to remove evidence, abuse inquiry told

A bishop had a habit of 'filleting' key information about potential abusing priests from their files, making it harder to trace previous offending, an inquiry heard.

Roger Meekings, who carried out an independent review into past cases of abuse in Chichester in 2009, said he was not shown documents that may have shed light on abusive clergy. He added that information about priests who were later jailed, including former bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball, had not been in their personel files.

The inquiry is chaired by professor Alexis Jay, second from left.IICSA

'I remember being told that a previous bishop may have had a habit of "filleting" the blue files' which contain background information on all clergy, he told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse which is holding three weeks of hearings into the Church of England.

He added that Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check data was often missing from clergy's files.

Ball was eventually jailed for 32 months in 2015, 22 years after he escaped with a caution in 1992 for abusing a trainee monk.

The inquiry is hearing evidence on how the diocese of Chichester responded to allegations of abuse as a case study for the wider Church.

David Greenwood, a lawyer for a number of abuse victims, said earlier in the hearings that senior Church of England figures had conspired to allow the sexual abuse of children.

'We will hear in this Chichester inquiry of a culture in which the burning of paper files in the cathedral yard was tolerated, bishops ignoring past convictions and allegations was commonplace,' he said in his opening statement earlier this week.

'We will see that there was a hopelessly disjointed system for dealing with allegations, meaning that clergy employee files did not contain reports of past allegations.

'We will hear about the removal of documents from files.

'We will hear of bishops granting permission to officiate certificates to convicted paedophiles and those facing criminal allegations. There is a strong suspicion of an organised conspiracy between clergy and bishops in the Diocese of Chichester to enable children to be abused, and it will be painful for all involved to hear.'

Roger Meekings carried out an independent review into past cases of abuse in the diocese of Chichester.IICSA

The former bishop of Lewes, Wallace Benn, has been particularly criticised in evidence to the inquiry this week.

Canon Ian Gibson, who was chaplain and effective chief of staff to the former bishop of Chichester, John Hind, recalled Benn asking if concerns about Rev Gordon Rideout, later jailed for abuse, could not be passed onto the safeguarding adviser, because 'he is a friend and a trusted man'.

He told the inquiry: 'At the conclusion of the senior staff meeting on September 6 [2010], Bishop Wallace spoke to Bishop John about a blemished CRB disclosure his office had received...he asked Bishop John if he could not disclose the information to the safeguarding officer for the diocese as "he is a friend and a much respected person".

'Bishop John then requested that Bishop Wallace to go with him into his room and discuss the matter. The rest of the conversation was held between the two of them.

'Bishop John came back into the room where I was present after the conversation and expressed his alarm at what Bishop Wallace had asked for.'

Canon Gibson added that Bishop Wallace denied his account and called him a 'liar'.

In another instance speaking in the context of abusing priests, Bishop Wallace said he had 'seen a number of people reputations blackened unnecessarily' and 'listened to people take the hump because of a trivial thing they've done', according to Meekings.

'You can't write off a good guy because of a bad day,' said Benn, according to Meekings' records.

The inquiry is expected to hear Benn's account next week. The hearings continue.