British bishop jailed for sex assaults

LONDON (AFP) - A British court on Wednesday jailed a former bishop with links to the royal family for 32 months after he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting teenagers in a case that has prompted accusations of a cover-up.

Judge Alan Wilkie said Peter Ball, 83, had taken advantage of aspiring priests for his own "selfish sexual motives".

London's Old Bailey court heard that Ball had made victims strip naked and suggested they submit to beatings in claims ranging from 1977 to 1992.

The former bishop of Lewes in southern England avoided charges after allegations arose in 1993.

At the time, Ball - who once described Prince Charles as a "loyal friend" - received support from a number of establishment figures, including a member of the royal family, the court heard.

Ball last month pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office and two counts of indecent assault on men in their teens after failing in his attempt to get the case thrown out.

Wilkie said Ball had exploited his power to "persuade selected individuals to commit or submit to acts of physical or sexual debasement under the guise of being part of their austere regime of devotion when they were not.

"What you did was the antithesis of what was expected of someone holding your office," he added.

George Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury at the time of the abuse, denied there had been a "cover-up".

"I greatly regret the fact that, during my tenure as Archbishop of Canterbury, we dealt inadequately with Peter Ball's victims and gave too much credence to his protestations," he said Wednesday.

"Allegations by some that my actions amounted to a cover-up or collusion with the abuser are wrong. I have always insisted upon the highest standards of holiness of life from all who are ordained."

The Church of England called it "a matter of deep shame and regret."

Lawyer Richard Scorer, who represented a number of Ball's victims, said it was a "scandal" that it had taken so long to secure a conviction.

"The way in which senior clergy and establishment figures - including MPs, cabinet ministers and members of the Royal Family - closed ranks around him has only compounded his victims' anguish," he said.

"This has reinforced the impression their abuse was inflicted upon them with the institutional backing of the Church."

Eighteen victims said they had been targeted by Ball at his home in Litlington, East Sussex.

One accuser, Neil Todd, committed suicide in 2012 when police announced they had reopened the case.

Prosecutor Bobbie Cheema said Ball had introduced Todd to "penitential psalms", which involved saying prayers naked.