A review into how two priests were allowed to continue working despite being accused of child abuse offences has found serious failings in the police and senior clergy.

Collin Pritchard was the vicar of St Barnabas, in Bexhill, until 2007, despite having been first reported to police for sex offences 10 years earlier. He was later jailed for sexually abusing two young boys.

One of the boys was also abused by Roy Cotton, who worked as a parish priest in Brede near Rye, but prosecutors decided there was not enough evidence to charge him before he died in September 2006.

Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, who was appointed by the Church of England to carry out an independent review, said that across the diocese "and probably in many other dioceses" there had been "a lack of understanding of the seriousness of historic child abuse".

She said Sussex Police committed a "serious oversight" in missing the fact that Cotton had a previous conviction for indecently assaulting a child in 1954 in their later investigation.

Their approach to historic allegations of sex abuse at the time appeared to have been "superficial", she said. The retired judge also noted that even though at least two victims of the same abuser gave similar accounts, there was no connection made by officers.

Meanwhile, senior clergy, including bishops, were slow to act on information available to them and to assess the potential risk to children in the diocese, she said.

Baroness Butler-Sloss also found there was inadequate communication between senior clergy and child protection advisors in the diocese.

Responding to the report, the Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, said: "I feel deep and profound sorrow for the pain caused to all victims and for the institutional failings of the Church in this Diocese.

"I am grateful to Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss for her thorough review.

"The report has now been completed, and her conclusions and recommendations are in line with what we are now doing and will continue to build on, and it will provide a strong foundation for good safeguarding practice in the Diocese."

Detective Superintendent Jane Rhodes said: "Sussex Police have co-operated fully with the enquiry by Baroness Butler-Sloss, and we particularly welcome her comments about the high standards the force maintains in child protection work.

"However it is important to put some of the references to police in the report into further context.

"We have always taken allegations of sexual abuse very seriously.

"We were amongst the first forces in the UK to form specialist Child Protection Teams in 1993, and we have a good record in carrying out such enquiries and bringing offenders to justice.

"Indeed, for example, whilst the 1997 allegations were being investigated the force was successfully investigating two unrelated cases of historic sexual abuse.

"Priority continues to be given to such offences and just weeks ago, thanks to the persistent efforts of our officers over nearly ten years, a man was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for offences against teenage girls in his care in the 1980s.

"We encourage anyone who has suffered such abuse to report offences, no matter how long ago they occurred.

"All such reports will be treated in confidence by experience and specialist investigators, with respect and sympathy, and every effort will be made to establish evidence that will enable offenders to be brought to justice.

"You can contact us at any time via 0845 60 70 999.

"We investigated allegations, which were made in 1997, of historic sexual abuse offences by Roy Cotton and also Colin Pritchard during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"Following the investigation papers were submitted in 1999 to the Crown Prosecution Service who decided that there was insufficient evidence to justify criminal proceedings.

"The police case material compiled for the 1997 investigation was destroyed some three years after the investigation closed, in compliance with what was then standard policy for most types of undetected crime.

"However national police policy has long since changed and such material relating to an undetected case would now be retained for at least ten years and even then would be subject to careful review before any decision was taken to dispose of it.

"In addition, although those case papers were destroyed, a report of the outline of the allegations is retained on our systems, identifying the subjects of the enquiries and further useful information.

"We have no reason to believe that the investigation was in any way inadequate.

"Reference is made in the report to a further allegation made by another person in the early 2000s. We have no record of any such approach.

"Even in 1997 the 1954 conviction of Cotton would have been accessible to police, although in the absence of the full case papers we cannot prove that officers did check and find it.

"But equally there is no evidence that they did not, and in any event, disclosure of conviction information to any non-statutory agency would not have been practice at that time.

"Legislation and national policy has since changed and this would now be possible.

"However we note from the Butler-Sloss report itself that the information was in fact already in the possession of the Diocese."