Solicitor struck off for conflict of interests in defending bishop

Posted: Mon, 9th Jan 2023

Peter Ball

A legal advisor who delayed bishop Peter Ball's imprisonment for abuse has been struck off, following complaints raised by the National Secular Society.

Christopher Peak, the former legal advisor to the Church of England Diocese of Gloucester, agreed to remove himself from the roll of solicitors by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), according to a decision published today.

In 1992 Peak became the personal solicitor to Ball (pictured), then the bishop of Gloucester, to defend him against multiple allegations of sexual misconduct involving congregants, some of whom included minors and vulnerable adults.

Ball admitted to Peak that he had committed offences of indecent assault and gross indecency against parishioners.

The SRA found Peak had "wilfully or recklessly disregarded the risk of harm" by agreeing to defend Ball while also acting as the registrar and legal advisor for the diocese.

This therefore caused a conflict of interest between his duty to protect the interests of the diocese's congregation, and Ball's desire to receive "as lenient an outcome as possible" for his offences and return to his ministry.

Peak's defence leads to delay in conviction

Following Ball's arrest in 1992, Peak successfully encouraged the Crown Prosecution Service to issue him with a caution rather than prosecute him. Although Ball subsequently resigned, the Church took no disciplinary action and Ball was not placed on the church's list of clergy about whom there were concerns.

Instead, Ball was permitted to carry out services within the Church, including working with children.

Ball was not convicted until 2015, after new evidence of his abuse of boys and young men emerged. He was sentenced to 32 months in prison.

During the two decades in which Ball evaded prison, the abuse suffered by his victims was compounded by the Church's unwillingness to act, leading them to expect Ball would never face justice. Victim Neil Todd committed suicide after several attempts starting in 1992.

The Church's report concluded in 2017 that its actions were "likely to have led people in the Church to believe that Ball was essentially innocent", when Peak at least knew he was not.

Ball also used his friendships with senior establishment figures, including then-Prince Charles, to evade justice.

Charles told Ball in a letter in 1995, two years after the bishop had accepted the police caution: "I wish I could do more. I feel so desperately strongly about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you and the way you have been treated."

NSS welcomes SRA decision

Between 2015 and 2018 concerns over Peak's role were raised by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse and the NSS.

NSS president Keith Porteous Wood said: "We welcome the SRA's response to our concerns. The clear conflict of interest led to an unacceptable delay in Ball's conviction, putting children at risk and adding to the anguish of his victims. Peak should never have put the bishop's interests above justice for the victims and the safety of his congregation.

"Sadly, there are indications that the Church has failed to learn from this incident. IICSA has repeatedly found cases of the CofE protecting its own reputation above the wellbeing of children and other vulnerable people.

"The role of the Church's privileges, including its close relationships with the establishment, in its failings on sex abuse within its ranks must be scrutinised."

NSS vice president and lawyer for many of Peter Ball's victims, Richard Scorer, said: "This case demonstrates yet again that the Church of England has been rife with conflicts of interest particularly when it comes to dealing with cases of clerical abuse. In this case the interests of a senior Bishop under investigation for abuse was treated as being the same as the interests of the church as a whole.

"Cases like this show yet again that the Church of England cannot be trusted to deal fairly and objectively with abuse allegations in house and only proper independent oversight and mandatory reporting will ensure that this happens. We need these urgently."

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Tags: Abuse, Disestablishment