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Bishop says Iwerne Trust leader beat him in shed

10 February 2017

Diocese of Guildford

“Violent and shocking”: the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, one of the victims

“Violent and shocking”: the Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, one of the victims

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

The Iwerne Trust, now part of the Titus Trust, ran holiday camps for boys at English public schools in the 1970s. A six-month Channel 4 News investigation, broadcast last week, 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.

One 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 in 1982. 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, Channel 4 reports. He went on to live in Zimbabwe, where he continued to run holiday camps — Zambezi Ministries — and South Africa.

Channel 4 News reports that, in Zimbabwe, “almost constant concerns” were raised about Mr Smyth, as early as 1986. A report seen by the programme, focusing on 1991, says that he continued to perpetrate beatings, as punishment for, among other things, wearing underwear.

In 1992, a 16-year-old boy, Guide Nyachuru, was found dead in a swimming pool at a Zambezi camp, prompting other young men to come forward. Mr Smyth was charged in 1997 with culpable homicide and assault. The case collapsed after it was decided that the prosecutor had a conflict of interest.

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 about Mr Smyth. The British police had been notified. The letter was shown to Archbishop Welby, for information.

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 had 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.”

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.”

In his statement, Bishop Watson disavowed connections between the abuse and theology.

He expressed “the concern of myself and some of my fellow survivors that we are seen as people and not used as pawns in some political or religious game. 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. It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided, manipulative, and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives.”

Canon Giles Fraser, the Priest-in-Charge of St Mary’s, Newington, told Channel 4 News that he had been beaten at prep school, and that he disagreed with Bishop Watson’s statement as it pertained to theology and abuse.

“It is a question of theology,” he said. “There is some bad theology at the heart of these whippings. That theology says that you need to be a real man, you can be whipped for Jesus in order to make you strong. The Victorians are obsessed with homosexuality and masturbation. And it’s a similar sort of obsession you get. The Church of England is still stupidly obsessed with homosexuality, and that’s part of the psychodynamic . . . that was going on then in public schools.”

The Church had to “stop saying ‘this was about a few bad apples’”, he said. “It has to take a very good long look in the mirror, and say, actually, it was something about the way in which we presented the Christian faith that made this possible. And there has to be a sort of theological reckoning, and I think that people are incredibly resistant to doing that.”

On Tuesday, the executive director of the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), Justin Humphries, said that “we should not let a discussion about theology distract us” from abuse. The Bishop of Guildford was “right that abuse occurs across all theological positions. It cuts across all communities, all cultures, all faiths.” But he warned that the Church was “not as aware as we should be as to when distortions and interpretations of a theological position result in harm being caused to people”.

He explained: “We should not pin it on any theology, but be prepared to challenge and question where any individual’s interpretation or doctrinal position results in the harm of any recipient of that. . . Our world-view has to be shaped by all manner of considerations, and law and good practice and policy should be factors which we are considering, in whatever line of business or ministry we are in.

“The danger is that, if we continue to argue that there is a particular theology that brings about these abuses, we are in danger of removing the responsibility from any individual for their own behaviour. There are all manner of justification and reasons given why offenders behave in the way that they do, but the bottom line is that they are perpetrating abuse, and there has to be responsibility carried for that.”

Research into spiritual abuse was “still in very early days”, he said, but he suggested that “the removal of choice” was an important aspect. CCPAS is working with the University of Bournemouth on a study exploring spiritual abuse.

Bishop Watson said in his statement that his 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.”

In an open letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, published online by the Telegraph on Monday evening, an anonymous man describes being beaten by Mr Smyth several times a week, from the age of 16 to 21. It was his attempted suicide, he writes, that prompted an end to the beatings.

The letter considers the response to the abuse by institutions, and their failure to report it to the police. It concludes with a request that the Archbishop ask himself: “Can I look myself in the mirror and honestly say that I did everything I could to report to the correct authority all the things that I knew?”

A statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury to Channel 4 News last week 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.”


CCPAS: Make church posts ‘trust’ positions. A LOOPHOLE in the law must be closed to ensure that priests and other church workers cannot sexually abuse older teenagers still under their care, the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) has said, writes Tim Wyatt.

The CCPAS, a charity, is calling on the Government to classify clergy and church employees, such as youth workers, as holding “positions of trust”.

This designation would mean that sexual activity between someone aged 16 or 17 — over the age of consent, but not yet an adult — and a priest or church worker would still be unlawful, irrespective of whether the young person believed himself or hersefl to have consented.

Currently, doctors, social workers, foster carers, and teachers are among the professions deemed to be “positions of trust”.

The executive director of safeguarding at CCPAS, Justin Humphreys, said: “As a voice for over 8000 churches and organisations up and down the country, we hear daily how, sadly, positions of trust can be abused.

“The current definition of ‘position of trust’ is outdated, and insufficient to protect the huge numbers of young people who come into contact with adults in a vast array of different settings.”

Designating clergy and church staff as holding “positions of trust” would force churches to create safer working practices, and, therefore, give better protection to children under their care, Mr Humphreys said.

He has also written to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to ask that she implement these changes.

A Home Office spokesman said that the issue was now handled by the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry’s spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

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