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UK >

Bishop tells of being abused in youth leader's 'infamous shed'

Madeleine Davies

by Madeleine Davies

Posted: 02 Feb 2017 @ 01:51

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Upfront: Archbishop Welby speaks to journalists after appearing on Nick Ferrari’s LBC breakfast programme, at Global Radio studios, London, on Thursday

Upfront: Archbishop Welby speaks to journalists after appearing on Nick Ferrari’s LBC breakfast programme, at Global Radio studios, London, on Thursday

THE Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, has said that he is a survivor of "appalling activities" perpetrated by John Smyth QC, a former chairman of the Iwerne Trust facing multiple allegations of abuse. 

Bishop Watson has asked that he and others are "seen as people and not used as pawns in some political or religious game", after some in the media drew connections between abuse and Evangelicalism.

"Abusers espouse all theologies and none; and absolutely nothing that happened in the Smyth shed was the natural fruit of any Christian theology that I’ve come across before or since," he said on Monday, in a statement. "It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided, manipulative and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives."  

A six-month Channel Four News investigation found that both the Iwerne Trust and Winchester College had learned of allegations of abuse by Mr Smyth in the 1980s but failed to report them to the police. One man told the programme that he and other boys had been beaten so badly by Mr Smyth that they had to wear nappies to staunch the bleeding.

A statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury to the programme said: “We recognise that many institutions fail catastrophically, but the Church is meant to hold itself to a far, far higher standard and we have failed terribly. For that the Archbishop apologises unequivocally and unreservedly to all survivors.”

One man said that he grew so fearful of the beatings that he tried to take his own life in 1981. This prompted the Iwerne Trust to launch an investigation, and compile a confidential report, written in 1982, seen by Channel 4 News.

It described what it called the “beatings” of 22 young men.

“The scale and severity of the practice was horrific. . . eight received about 14,000 strokes: 2 of them having some 8000 strokes over three years.”

A “senior figure” in the Trust wrote to Mr Smyth, telling him to leave the country. He went on to live in Zimbabwe, and then South Africa.

Channel 4 News reported that he then set up another holiday camp, Zambesi Holidays, where further alleged abuse took place. A 16-year-old boy, Guide Nyachuru, was found dead in a swimming pool while on a Zambesi holiday in 1992. Mr Smyth was charged with culpable homicide over the death, in 1997, and further counts related to the treatment of other boys, but the case collapsed when it emerged that the prosecutor had a conflict of interest, Channel 4 reports.

In August 2013, the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, wrote to the Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, informing him of concerns expressed to his diocesan safeguarding adviser about Mr Smyth from an alleged survivor. The British police had been notified. The Archbishop’s Chaplain at the time was forwarded this letter, and subsequently showed it to the Archbishop for information only.

Archbishop Welby was a Dormitory Officer at Iwerne holiday camp in the late 1970s, when Mr Smyth was one of the leaders. A statement from Lambeth Palace said that the Archbishop worked with Mr Smyth, but that no one had discussed the allegations with him.

“I was completely unaware of any abuse,” the Archbishop told LBC radio, on Thursday. “I never heard anything at all at any point. I never had the slightest suspicion that there was anything going on.”

In its statement, Lambeth Palace said that the Archbishop knew that Mr Smyth had moved overseas but, “apart from the occasional card, did not maintain contact with him”.

“The Archbishop has repeatedly said that he believes that the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults should be a principle priority in all parts of the Church, and that any failings in this area must be immediately reported to the police,” the Lambeth Palace statement says. “The Archbishop is on the record as saying that survivors must come first, not the Church’s own interests. This applies regardless of how important, distinguished or well-known the perpetrator is.”

The Titus Trust, which absorbed the Iwerne Trust in 2000, told Channel 4 News: “It was only in 2014 that the board of The Titus Trust was informed about this matter, after which we submitted a serious incident report to the Charity Commission and provided full disclosure to the police. The allegations are very grave and they should have been reported to the police when they first became known in 1981.”

“We utterly condemn this behaviour and abuse of power and trust,” the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Adviser, Graham Tilby, said. He said that his predecessor had helped to find support for the survivors.

“Clearly more could have been done at the time to look further into the case,” he said. “We now have a dedicated central team made up of six full-time posts. We will be reviewing all files, making further enquiries as necessary.” He urged anyone with further information to go to the police.

When Channel 4 News put the allegations to Mr Smyth on camera, he said: “I’m not talking about what we did at all.” He called some of the claims nonsense, and declined to respond to further requests.

In an interview with the programme, the Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, said that the Iwerne camps and Mr Smyth's "activities" had had "extraordinary influence among senior Evangelicals in the Church of England of my generation." This raised "disturbing questions," he said, "about the mentality of these people who have been immensely influential in the Church of England."

He went on: "The theology that these people bring to the table very often has an element of violence and a sort of nastiness in it, a kind of element of punitive behaviour. God is seen as this punitive figure who is somehow out to get people and I suppose it does blind people to what’s going on in front of them sometimes, when there is that kind of violent basic theology."

Bishop Watson said in his statement that he story was "certainly less traumatic than that of some others. I was drawn into the Smyth circle, as they were, and the beating I endured in the infamous garden shed was violent, excruciating and shocking; but it was thankfully a one-off experience never to be repeated. A while later one of my friends attempted suicide on the eve of another session in the shed . . . and at that point I and a friend shared our story."

He had been in contact with Hampshire police over the weekend, he said. 

"My profoundest prayers are with all those affected by this, and my heartfelt desire is that lessons might be learnt so this never happens again. I am grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his apology to survivors on behalf of the Church, and don't begin to believe that he knew anything of Smyth's violent activities until his office was informed in 2013."

 

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