14:39, July 23 258 0 theguardian.com

2018-07-23 14:39:04
Bishop inquiry in exchanges with Prince of Wales’s solicitors over submission

The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse against the former bishop Peter Ball, an associate of the Prince of Wales, engaged in protracted exchanges with the prince’s solicitors about his written submission, the inquiry has been told. A five-day hearing this week is scrutinising the church’s response to claims of sexual abuse against Ball, a former bishop of Lewes and then Gloucester, who was jailed in 2015.

Fiona Scolding QC, senior counsel to the inquiry, said its officials had “made clear on a number of occasions that what was required from Prince Charles was a witness statement bearing a statement of truth”.

During “lengthy discussions” with the prince’s legal team, “there can have been no doubt about what was required”.

The inquiry provided the prince’s solicitors with a witness statement template in March, and a letter used the word “statement” five times, she said.

But “despite lengthy correspondence, including assertions from the prince’s solicitors that the inquiry’s requests for evidence were outside its powers (ultra vires)”, the signed document sent to the inquiry came in the form of a letter, she said.

The last sentence made it clear that the material set out was true, she added. The inquiry considered this complied with requirements of a statement of truth, “nevertheless, the form in which it was presented was not what had been requested”.

The inquiry issued first a request under rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules, and subsequently s.21 notices under the Inquiries Act 2005, requiring the prince to produce the evidence required, she said.

The prince’s legal team made exception to both types of request, the inquiry heard. His solicitors also submitted that the inquiry had “no power to require the prince to make a statement in light of the provisions of section 50 of the Inquiries Act 2005, that the inquiry’s requests were for his personal data [that] was intensely private and confidential, that the inquiry’s handling of its requests was unfair, and that the inquiry had no power to compel him to produce a statement”.

Scolding went on: “The inquiry adjusted its requests in some respects as a result, but did not resile from its demands, the need to obtain this evidence or accept the contention that the prince should be treated in a way that was different from any other witness.

“After lengthy and extensive correspondence, and some discussions, about this, agreement was reached on a statement that the prince would provide voluntarily. As a consequence, the s.21 notices were revoked because the inquiry had obtained the evidence it needed and they were no longer necessary.”

A Clarence House spokesperson said: “The prince made it clear that he was willing to help the inquiry and voluntarily answered all the questions asked in the form of ‘free flowing text’ as requested by the inquiry itself. The final submission includes a statement of truth in common with all witness statements.

“The legal exchanges, which have been extensively referred to by the inquiry’s solicitors, were necessary to ensure clarity regarding both the structure, relevance and content of the statement. Once resolved, the inquiry raised no objection to the format of the prince’s submission.”

The prince’s letter is due to be read to the inquiry on Friday.