The Church of England faces fresh scrutiny over its handling of historic child abuse after the outgoing Bishop of Gloucester was placed at the centre of a police inquiry over allegations of indecent assault on a child more than 30 years ago.
The Rt Rev Michael Perham, 66, suddenly quit after nearly a decade as bishop on Friday citing “personal reasons” but it can be revealed that a police inquiry was launched centred on the parish in south London where the senior cleric started his career in the Church as an assistant curate in 1976.
The force confirmed today that officers from its sexual offences, exploitation and child abuse command are investigating “allegations of indecent assault on a child said to have occurred between 1980 and 1981”. Nobody has been arrested during the course of the continuing inquiry, the force said in a statement.
The Metropolitan Police said that a 66-year-old attended a police building where he was interviewed under caution on suspicion of indecent assault on a child aged under 18 and a woman aged over 18. They did not name the bishop.
The diocese has declined to comment further on the reasons for the bishop’s departure but it is understood that senior Church officials have been in contact with a group representing victims of abuse after it was alerted about the allegation four weeks ago. The Diocese of Gloucester said: “This is a police matter. We have no further comment to make.”
Bishop Perham’s departure has been the subject of speculation in Gloucester since authorities announced his “stepping back” with immediate effect from the post he had taken since 2004. He played no part in the service of remembrance to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War held at Gloucester Cathedral at the weekend.
Bishop Perham, married with four grown-up daughters, announced last year that he would be retiring in November 2014 after completing a pilgrimage across his diocese. He said that the time was right for him and his family. A special service was due to take place on 8 November to celebrate his time as Bishop of Gloucester. Church officials said they did not know if it was still going ahead.
The investigation is connected with St Mary’s Church, in New Addington, south London. The bishop served the first of his six full-time posts in the Church of England as curate there from 1976 to 1981, according to the Gloucester diocese website.
Since then he rose up the ranks and has worked as chaplain to the bishop in Winchester, in Poole, at Norwich Cathedral and as Dean of Derby until 2004. He became Bishop of Gloucester in 2004. The bishop, who has been a strong advocate of the role of women in the Church as bishops, is a member of the House of Lords and the House of Bishops standing committee.
In March, a former Bishop of Gloucester became the most senior Anglican cleric to be prosecuted for a child sex crime after being accused of exploiting his position to abuse young men over 15 years.
The Rt Rev Peter Ball, 82, was charged with indecently assaulting two people, one a boy aged as young as 12 in 1978, and misconduct in public office following an investigation into alleged attacks on 19 young men and boys.
The alleged offences date to the time he was Bishop of Lewes in the Chichester diocese before he was promoted to Bishop of Gloucester in 1992. He resigned from that post the following year. His case has yet to come to trial.
In a statement, the Gloucester diocese said that a process was under way to allow the Bishop of Tewkesbury to take over the Bishop of Gloucester’s duties. “As was stated on Friday, the Rt. Revd. Michael Perham has stepped back from his role as Bishop of Gloucester,” it said.
Details of the police inquiry came as it emerged that a national police group was being set up to link child sex abuse investigations involving public figures and institutions such as schools and care homes.
All police forces in the United Kingdom have been asked for details of their ongoing inquiries with senior investigators asked to sit on the group to share information between forces where inquiries overlap.
Last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said he dealt with issues of child sex abuse on a daily basis and he anticipated that more “bad stories” would emerge. He said: “I would love to say there weren’t, but I expect there are.”
He told the BBC that it was “becoming clearer and clearer that for many, many years things were not dealt with as they should. He is due to meet with campaigners next month. Lucy Duckworth, of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors group, said: “We’re going to talk to him about cases that have not been resolved and his response to survivors because it’s just not good enough.”