On 8 September 2015, the Guardian reported that Peter Ball, the former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault relating to two young men and one charge of misconduct in public office.
It was said that the three offences related to sexual offences committed against 19 “young men” over a period of 15 years from 1977 to 1992. The prosecution indicated that there had been a great deal of communication between prosecution and defence resulting in the pleas being entered and so it seems (although we don’t “do” plea bargains in the UK) both sides were negotiating as to entering guilty pleas to which offences would be acceptable.
Counts to “lie on the file”
Additionally, two charges of indecently assaulting two boys in their early teens will lie on file – this means that they are not formally terminated (as there is no verdict) but will not be proceeded with (and cannot be proceeded with without leave of the court).
It was reported that some 22 years ago, allegations of a similar nature were made against Ball, however after discussions with the police, the decision was taken to caution him, rather than charge him. The current allegations came to light in 2012 after the Church of England released certain documents to the police. Ball was then arrested and charged. The information contained within the documents is not known.
The nature of the offences
There is presently very little detail as to the nature of the offences.
It is unusual to see a vast number of offences committed against a large number of victims dealt with as specimen counts (a count representing a number of offences committed over a period of time); this is particularly so when the offences are historical sexual offences where the maximum sentences were often limited.
A balance has to be struck between properly representing the criminality (with an eye on the maximum sentences) and avoiding a large number of counts representing the same or similar activity. The key is the phrasing of the indictment – in a recent case, the prosecution were criticised for their approach where the indictment specified that the offences had occurred on not more than two occasions – the problem being that the judge was unsure of the exact basis on which to sentence (was it two, or was just a single occasion?) and so had to sentence on the basis most favourable to the defendant.
As we don’t know: a) the exact nature of the offences (and consequently their seriousness), b) the number of victims represented by the two indecent assault offences and the one misconduct in public office offence, or c) the wording of the indictment, it is not possible to criticise, however we will return to the issue on 7 October when Ball is sentenced.
Indecent assault on a male has always had a maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment.
Misconduct in public office is a common law offence for which the maximum sentence is at large; this means technically the maximum is life imprisonment, but sentences for this offence never get near to that level.
We’ll revisit the case in due course; if anyone has additional information as to the nature of the offences/counts, please do get in touch.