PRINCE Charles has been dragged into the case of a paedophile bishop who lived in Somerset after it emerged the heir to the throne gave the disgraced cleric money after the latter had received a police caution.

The Prince of Wales says he was aware that Peter Ball, who lived in Aller, near Langport, had been given a police caution, but claims he did not realise it amounted to an admission of guilt.

Ball, now 86, the former Bishop of Lewis and Gloucester, was forced to resign his ministry in 1993 after his catalogue of abuse of boys and young men came to light.

He convinced some of his victims to strip naked to pray and even suggested they submit to beatings between 1977 and 1992.

He was jailed for 32 months in 2015 after pleading guilty at the Old Bailey to misconduct in a public office and two counts of indecent assault on teenage males.

Details of Prince Charles's relationship with Ball will be revealed at an inquiry into the case on Friday.

The next in line to the throne had "decades of correspondence" with Ball and occasionally sent him "small gifts of money", according to the draft copy of his statement to the inquiry, The Times has reported.

The statement will add that Ball confided in him in 2009 that he had been involved in an "indiscretion" years previously, which he blamed on a person with a grudge.

Charles, who said he deeply regretted being "deceived" by a friend, said: "I was certainly not aware at the time of the significance or impact of the caution.

He added: "I was not aware until recently that a caution in fact carries an acceptance of guilt."

A Clarence House spokesman said: "While the prince made it clear that he was unaware of Mr Ball's behaviour, he indicated he was happy to volunteer context on his contact with Mr Ball if that would help."

After sentencing Ball in 2015, Mr Justice Wilkie told him he had misused his position to "persuade selected individuals to commit or submit to acts of physical or sexual debasement under the guise of being part of their austere regime of devotion when they were not".

The judge said: "What you did was the antithesis of what was expected of someone holding your office."

The Church of England offered an "unreserved apology" to victims of Ball, who was Bishop of Lewes between 1977 and 1992 and Bishop of Gloucester from 1992 to 1993.

An Abuse of Faith, an independent report into the Church's handling of the Ball, case criticised the Church for failing to "respond appropriately to his misconduct and said his priority was "to protect and promote himself and he maligned the abused".