The Prince of Wales has said he regrets having been “deceived” by a disgraced bishop with whom he remained friends for more than two decades despite the clergyman having been cautioned for gross indecency.
A statement from Charles was read to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on Friday, as a five-day case study into how allegations against former Church of England bishop Peter Ball were handled comes to a close.
During his time in the clergy, Ball boasted of his links to royalty and was said to be a confidant of Charles.
Ball, who is now 86, accepted a caution for one count of gross indecency in 1993 and resigned due to ill health.
Charles said Ball told him his resignation as bishop of Gloucester had been prompted by an “indiscretion”, but the prince said: “When this exchange took place, I did not know about the nature of the complaint.”
He also said, in a six-page statement read by counsel to the inquiry Fiona Scolding, that he had not appreciated the meaning of a caution and that at the time the word of a bishop was generally seen as trustworthy.
Charles said Ball had mentioned in a 2009 letter to him the word “caution”, but added: “I was not aware until recently that a caution in fact carries an acceptance of guilt.”
He said Ball had told him the “false” complaint against him had arisen from someone who had a grudge against him and was “persecuting” him.
The prince said he did not realise the truth of what had happened until Ball’s conviction, adding that his main source of information until then had been the bishop himself.
He said: “In the 1980s and 1990s there was a presumption that people such as Bishops could be taken at their word and, as a result of the high office they held, were worthy of trust and confidence”.
Charles said at the time “there was on my part a presumption of good faith”.
Dismissing any suggestion he had ever tried to interfere in the police investigation into Ball, Charles said it was possible his name had been taken “in vain”.
He referred to a 2001 letter which he said conveyed to Ball that he could not help him in any approach the disgraced bishop wanted to make to the Archbishop of Canterbury to return to public ministry.
In his statement, Charles said: “At no stage did I ever seek to influence the outcome of either of the police investigations into Peter Ball and nor did I instruct or encourage my staff to do so.”
Ending the statement, dated July 10 this year, he said: “My heart goes out to the victims of abuse and I applaud their courage as they rebuild their lives and, so often, offer invaluable support to others who have suffered.
“It remains a source of deep personal regret that I was one of many who were deceived over a long period of time about the true nature of Mr Ball’s activities.”
On Monday the inquiry heard there had been lengthy discussions between Charles’s lawyers and the inquiry in which his legal team initially argued that the future king could not be compelled to produce a statement.
Clarence House has since said Charles was willing to help the inquiry and had voluntarily answered all questions asked of him.
Extracts from a series of letters between Ball and Charles were also read to the inquiry at the hearing in London on Friday.
In one letter in 1995, Charles wrote that he wished he could “do more”.
He wrote: “I feel so desperately strongly about the monstrous wrongs that have been done to you and the way you have been treated.”
Another letter from Charles in 1996 referred to the process of getting a Duchy of Cornwall property for Ball and his brother Michael, Bishop of Truro.
It said: “I long to see you both settled somewhere that suits you and gives you peace and tranquility – and not too far from here so you can come over more easily.”
The pair rented a Duchy property between 1997 and 2011.
Richard Scorer, a specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon who represents a number of Ball’s victims, said Charles’s explanation that he was not aware of the meaning of a caution left his clients “dissatisfied”.
He said: “Prince Charles had access to the best legal advice that money can buy and, as a man in his position, a particular responsibility to check the facts. It is difficult to see his failure to do so as anything other than wilful blindness.
“His evidence, together with that of Lord Carey, the then archbishop of Canterbury, and other establishment figures who have given evidence this week, will do little to dissuade survivors from the conclusion that the British establishment aided and protected Ball and even now have failed to give a transparent account of their actions.”
Ball was released in February last year after serving half of his 32-month sentence behind bars.
The former bishop of Lewes and Gloucester is too ill to give evidence in person, the inquiry has heard.