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Evangelical clergy rebut John Smyth abuse links

03 March 2017


Accusations: John Smyth

Accusations: John Smyth

A SERIES of prominent Evangelical clerics and organisations have rejected claims that they knew about John Smyth’s alleged abuse of teenage boys long before the accusations came to light last month (News, 10 February, Comment, 17 February).

After one man who said that he was brutally beaten by Mr Smyth attempted to kill himself in the early 1980s, the Iwerne Trust began an investigation into the accusations.

The Daily Telegraph has reported that the report drawn up after that investigation names Evangelical groups and individuals who were informed about its conclusion that Mr Smyth had been stripping young men naked in his shed and beating them until they bled.

The Church Society was among the groups said to have been informed about the case. Its director, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, however, said that he had “no reason to believe” that the society was aware of the allegations against Mr Smyth.

“We have found no mention of him at all in any of the minutes of our meetings over the period, and no payments ever made to him in our cash books,” he said. Nobody at the society had even heard of Mr Smyth until Channel 4 broke the story last month, he said.

“Our President, Chairman, Director, and the Council and Trust Directors know absolutely nothing about any involvement of John Smyth with Church Society.”

The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship (LCF) was also said to have been informed in the early 1980s of the Iwerne Trust’s conclusions about the behaviour of Mr Smyth, who was a QC and part-time judge, but their executive director, Mark Barrell denied this.

Contrary to the suggestions in the Iwerne documents, the LCF’s records suggest that they first heard about the allegations in 2003, when his involvement with the LCF was ended, Mr Barrell said.

“The LCF is appalled by the allegations made against John Smyth and, if they are proved to be true, condemns his actions in the strongest possible terms,” he also said.

The prominent Evangelical pastor David Jackman, who at the time led Above Bar Church in Southampton and later went on to found the Cornhill Training Course in London, was also told about Mr Smyth in the early 1980s, the Iwerne Trust report states.

Mr Jackman did not reply to a request for comment from the Church Times, but told The Daily Telegraph that he was informed about Mr Smyth’s abuse at the time, and did not pass on this information to the police. “I assumed that the matter was being dealt with by the authorities concerned,” he said.

Separately, the Charity Commission is to look into the charity run by the Revd Sue Colman and her husband, James, which was used to send money to Mr Smyth for decades after he left England and moved to first Zimbabwe, and then South Africa.

Mrs Colman is an NS assistant curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton, and oversees the church’s hospitality projects, which include working with vulnerable and at-risk children.

In a statement, she said that she did not know about the allegations against Mr Smyth and had never seen the Iwerne Trust report.

“Much of my work over many years has been focused around the protection of children and vulnerable adults, and I was therefore devastated to learn of the seriousness of the allegations against John Smyth of which I was unaware until very recently,” she said.

Although the financial support given to the Smyth family from her family trust was a private matter, Mrs Colman said that she understood that those donations “might be viewed as being inappropriate in the light of recent revelations and I am more sorry than I can say for any difficulties created for the work with which I am associated professionally”.

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