THE Church of England failed to protect children from sexual abusers in Sussex, an inquiry has found.

An independent inquiry into child sex abuse within the Church looked at the conduct of former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball and former Bishop of Chichester George Bell.

It found the Church fostered a culture where sexual predators could “hide” – and got more support than victims of sexual abuse.

The inquiry found that 390 clergy have been convicted since 1940.

Last year there were 2,500 safeguarding concerns raised and 449 allegations reported.

The Argus:

Former Bishop of Lewes Peter Ball

It had investigated claims against figures in Sussex, which is part of the Diocese of Chichester.

Victim Philip Johnson, from Eastbourne, was a victim of Bishop Peter Ball in 1978.

Ball admitted abusing 18 young men between 1977 and 1992 and was jailed in 2015. He died last year aged 87.

Mr Johnson previously agreed to waive his right to anonymity and said the inquiry has taken a step in the right direction.

He said there is a need for more independent oversight and safeguarding and a need for more thorough support for victims and survivors.

The Argus:

Philip Johnson has spoken out about the abuse

In 2015, following Ball’s conviction, the then Detective Chief Inspector Carywn Hughes described how Bishop Ball had abused 12 victims at his home in Litlington near Lewes over many years.

The DCI said: “It became clear that under the guise of his status as a Bishop, Ball had systematically abused the trust of the victims, many of whom were aspiring priests, while others were simply seeking to explore their spirituality.

“He abused that trust and used religion, through his Give A Year For Christ scheme, as a cloak behind which to carry out his grooming activity, the principal aim of which was to satisfy his sexual interest in and desire for young men.”

Ball was guilty of misconduct in a public office and sexual assault.

He admitted misusing his position in authority between 1977 and 1992 “to manipulate and prevail upon others for his own sexual gratification” in relation to 16 young men.

He also admitted indecently assaulting two men in their late teens between 1980 and 1983 and between 1990 and 1991.

Ball was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 until his resignation the following year.

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The inquiry found that public support was often given to clergy like Ball by the Church of England, regardless of the evidence against them.

Bishop George Bell was the wartime Bishop of Chichester.

A victim, who The Argus previously referred to as Carol to protect her identity, said she was five years old when he molested her.

She also explained she had informed the Church of the abuse in 1995, and again in 2012, and again in 2013 – at which time Archbishop Justin Welby saw to it her complaint was fully investigated.

In October 2015, the Church issued a £16,000 payout and an apology for the way the complaint had been dealt with.

Inquiry chairwoman Professor Alexis Jay said: “Over many decades, the Church of England failed to protect children and young people from sexual abusers, instead facilitating a culture where perpetrators could hide and victims faced barriers to disclosure that many could not overcome.

The Argus:

Professor Alexis Jay chaired the inquiry

“To ensure the right action is taken in future, it’s essential that the importance of protecting children from abhorrent sexual abuse is continuously reinforced.

“If real and lasting changes are to be made, it’s vital that the Church improves the way it responds to allegations from victims and survivors, and provides proper support for those victims over time.

“The panel and I hope that this report and its recommendations will support these changes to ensure these failures never happen again.”

The Argus:

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

The current Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby apologised for church failings and said he felt “ashamed”.

He said the failings revealed were “profoundly and deeply shocking”.