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Still no lessons-learnt review two years after John Smyth abuse emerged

01 March 2019

Smyth, the then chairman of the Iwerne Trust, died last August

Channel 4 News

John Smyth, who died last August

John Smyth, who died last August

TWO years after the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth, the then chairman of the Iwerne Trust, came to light (News, 10 February 2017), the Church has yet to begin a lessons-learnt review, the General Synod was told last week.

Mr Smyth died last August (News, 17 August 2018), and, in October, Hampshire Police confirmed that no charges would be brought against anyone else. The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Paul Hancock, who pledged to undertake a lessons-learnt review in August, told the Synod during Questions that, since then, the National Safeguarding Team (NST) had been “in active dialogue with the key organisations relevant to John Smyth’s involvement in the Iwerne Camps, with a view to securing a collaborative approach to the commissioning of a lessons-learnt review”.

To date, “the Church has not been able to secure this agreement with the other organisations, but we continue to be in active dialogue regarding this.”

The key organisations are the Titus Trust (the successor organisation to the Iwerne Trust), Winchester College, and the Scripture Union. Several survivors of Smyth’s abuse have launched a civil claim against the Titus Trust (News, 24 August 2018), and it is understood that the Titus Trust will consider a review only once these have been concluded.

Bishop Hancock was responding to a question from Martin Sewell (Rochester), who asked, “given the support, prevalence, and seniority of Anglican clergy within the Iwerne project, what has the Church been doing to ensure that transparency and accountability happens; and what outreach and support has been offered to those who suffered at Smyth’s hands?”

Time ran out before Mr Sewell could ask a supplementary question, and on Wednesday he expressed concern about the absence of safeguarding from the Synod agenda as a whole.

Conversations at the meeting had reassured him that “the Church is serious in its desire to investigate what went wrong with the Smyth case,” he said, but it had been more than six years since a survivor, Graham*, had first disclosed his abuse.

He questioned why the clergy who knew of the abuse, including the recipients of the Ruston Report — a confidential report prepared for a number of senior clergymen, including Iwerne Trustees, on 22 young men’s allegations against Smyth — had not raised the alarm.

“My best guess is that well over 100 people knew, heard, or suspected that something was seriously amiss in varying degrees, and people need to be asked ‘What did you know? When did you know it? Who did you share it with?’”

Andrew Graystone, an advocate for the survivors, said that he felt “ambivalent” about the prospect of an inquiry. “Inquiries don’t seem to be an effective tool for making progress in the Church of England,” he said on Tuesday. “If the Church isn’t going to change the way it deals with victims, then frankly I don’t see the point. . . Probably the most effective and practical form of Inquiry would be for Archbishop Justin to open his address book and spend an afternoon ringing old friends to ask them what they knew.”

On Wednesday, Graham* spoke of the “closing ranks” within the Titus Trust, the difficulty of securing support from the C of E, and “appalling communication” with survivors — he had only learned of the delayed review from the Synod questions. Survivors must not be excluded from the process of establishing it, he said: “Surely we should have a voice in what it looks like, what its remit is, and how wide it should be. . . I have no feel for what the inquiry is going to be like, what powers it will have, or who is going to conduct it.”

A review should extend to a consideration of the C of E’s relationship with “outlying organisations not strictly under their control, but calling themselves C of E or Anglican”, he said. He remained concerned whether an inquiry will reveal the truth about the organisations involved — “If they won’t tell the police the truth how would an inquiry ever get to it?” — and described Bishop Hancock’s suggestion that the NST had “sought to ensure that all those affected . . . were offered support and counselling” as “significant deceit”.

A spokesperson for Scripture Union said on Wednesday that it “is willing to explore the possibility of co-operating with a review that engages with all relevant organisations”.

*Name changed to protect anonymity

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