Letters of support for sex offender ex-bishop Peter Ball released
A former Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to police in 1993 with letters of support for the then Bishop of Gloucester who was being investigated for sex offences, it can be revealed.
Ex-archbishop George Carey said Peter Ball was in "torment" as a result of a police investigation, letters released by the Crown Prosecution Service show.
Ball, 83, was jailed in October for a string of offences against young men.
The Church of England apologised "unreservedly" to Ball's victims.
He was sentenced to 32 months for misconduct in a public office and 15 months for indecent assaults, to run concurrently.
In one of Lord Carey's letters he told police it was "improbable" he was guilty.
He also wrote in a letter to Barbara Mills - then the director of public prosecutions - that Ball's health was fragile and the decision to prosecute should be made "as speedily as possible".
The letters have been released by the CPS in response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by the BBC and others, after it emerged that personal letters had been written which were supportive of Ball.
Ball was eventually told he would not be prosecuted but received a caution instead. He resigned as Bishop of Gloucester in 1993, a position that followed a previous period as Bishop of Lewes.
However in October 2015, following repeated claims of a church cover-up, Mr Ball pleaded guilty to abusing 18 young men in the 70s, 80s and 90s. He was jailed for two years and ten months.
One of his victims was Neil Todd, whose attempts to take his own life triggered the police investigation in 1993 which prompted hundreds of letters of support for the Bishop.
In his two letters Lord Carey said he had no wish to influence the legal process. He makes no reference to the allegations of sexual abuse or Mr Todd, who finally took his own life at the end of 2012.
The letters also include one to the police from a senior judge at the time, Lord Justice Lloyd, who said that Ball was "the most gentle, upright and saintly man" he had ever met.
"He has obviously suffered far more already than any of us can imagine... He tells me if it goes on much longer, he feels he may well go off his head," he said.
While making it clear he did not want to influence the criminal process Lord Justice Lloyd wrote: "I find it difficult to accept that such an awful fate could have befallen so good a man."
The Old Bailey heard in October that while he was a bishop, Ball had used his position to groom and exploit his vulnerable victims.
Another of the 12 letters released by the CPS was from the former Conservative minister and Sussex MP, Tim Renton, who wrote to the director of public prosecutions in 1993 that "Peter has suffered terribly over the past six weeks," and urged that he should not be prosecuted.
The Conservative MP for Lewes, Tim Rathbone, wrote: "I find it literally inconceivable that he would ever become involved with anyone in the way the newspapers have described or insinuated."
James Woodhouse, the former headmaster of Lancing College in Sussex wrote that Ball was "acutely distressed" by some aspects of 20th-century culture, including "sexual permissiveness".
In his letter the warden of Radley College, Richard Morgan, said he had dismissed the allegations against Ball as "impossible" since the bishop had lived a life of "discipline".
However, the CPS said it not seen or received any correspondence from the royal family, despite Ball's claims to have been a friend of Prince Charles.
The CPS said it had taken the decision to release letters from "significant people" of influence at the time but not other "non-senior" individuals.
A spokesman for the Church of England said: "It is a matter of deep shame and regret that a bishop in the Church of England was sentenced earlier this year for a series of offences over 15 years against 18 young men known to him.
"There are no excuses whatsoever for what took place, nor for the systematic abuse of trust perpetrated by Peter Ball."