A member of the royal family, a senior judge, cabinet ministers and public school headmasters all supported a Church of England bishop who escaped prosecution for sexual abuse 22 years ago, the Old Bailey has heard.

The scale of the backing of senior establishment figures when Peter Ball was first accused in 1993 by a vulnerable young man of sexual exploitation and abuse was revealed for the first time on Wednesday.

Ball, 83, was in court to be sentenced for 15 years of grooming, sexual exploitation and abuse of 18 vulnerable young men aged 17-25, who had come to him for spiritual guidance and inspiration between 1977 and 1992 when he was bishop of Lewes.

Jailing him for two years and eight months, Mr Justice Wilkie said Ball had abused his position as a senior member of the established church. “You pursued selected individuals to commit or submit to acts of physical or sexual debasement under the guise of it being part of an austere regime of devotion,” Wilkie said. “These acts were committed at your suggestion for your own sexual gratification.”

Ball, who counted the Prince of Wales as a loyal friend, had first been accused in 1993 by Neil Todd, who had attempted suicide three times as a result of his abuse, and went on to kill himself in 2012.

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