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Smyth review will take evidence from Welby and Titus Trust

13 August 2019


The village sign in Iwerne Minster, Dorset

The village sign in Iwerne Minster, Dorset

A FORMER director of social services, Keith Makin, has been appointed by the National Safeguarding Team of the C of E (NST) to carry out a “lessons-learnt” review of the handling of allegations of abuse against the late John Smyth QC.

Smyth, who died last August before he could be questioned (News, 12 August 2018), has been accused of administering brutal beatings in his garden shed to boys whom he had befriended at camps run by the Iwerne Trust (now part of the Titus Trust) in the UK in the 1970s.

The NST published the terms of reference of its review on Tuesday afternoon — 18 months after it was first announced (News, 1 March). It states that Mr Makin, who also chairs the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Board, is to “consider the response of the Church of England and its officers to those allegations, and the response of other organisations, namely Winchester College, the Titus Trust, and the Scripture Union, to the extent that those organisations are willing to co-operate.”

The Titus Trust has said that its participation had been restricted pending ongoing legal action. Several survivors of Smyth’s abuse have launched a civil claim against the Trust (News, 24 August 2018).

The terms explain: “The Titus Trust has stated that it is restricted in its participation in the review by ongoing legal action and it is not able to engage in the review until this has been resolved.”

The Trust said in a separate statement that it welcomed the review and had given the NST “a significant amount of information” thus far. It had told the NST that it was “very happy to be involved in a review and seek to be as transparent and supportive as we can be”. It continued: “We look forward to being able to participate in the review process to an even greater extent once the legal proceedings relating to the case are over.”

The Scripture Union (SU) have said that they will not participate in the review. No reason is stated. The SU said in a statement on Wednesday, however, that it had instead decided to conduct its own “independent review to learn lessons from our past connections with John Smyth. Initial extensive searches of our records show very little relevant information regarding the way in which the Iwerne camps were conducted in the 1970s and 80s.”

Smyth’s association with the SU was “a matter of profound and sincere regret”, the statement says. “Our commitment is to learn from what has happened in the past and continue to develop our safeguarding policies and practices. We have contributed to arrangements for independent counselling support for those affected by this case.”

Smyth was living in South Africa when a disclosure of abuse was made in Ely diocese in 2013. He was a former chairman of the Iwerne Trust, which ran camps for boys at English public schools. A six-month Channel 4 News investigation, broadcast two years ago, 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 (News, 10 February 2017).

The review would also consider the accounts of survivors of Smyth’s abuse, the diocese of Ely, Lambeth Palace, Hampshire Police, and close relations of Smyth, among others, to “identity both good practice and failings in the Church’s handling of the allegations, so lessons can be learnt”.

The Bishop of Bath & Wells, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, who is the lead bishop on safeguarding, said that the review of the Church’s response — and the response of others — was “vital” to survivors. “It was their bravery in coming forward that finally brought the abuse perpetrated by Smyth to the attention of the police and wider Church. . .

“We recognise that the process of a review can be a very difficult one, and our thoughts remain with the victims and survivors of John Smyth.”

The terms of reference summarise the facts of the case, including that the Archbishop of Canterbury had been a “Dormitory Officer” at the Iwerne camps before his ordination, and that: “During his involvement with the Iwerne Trust, the Archbishop knew John Smyth, but not substantially.”

Archbishop of Welby has been criticised by survivors for suggesting that Smyth was not an Anglican and that the C of E was, therefore, “never directly involved” (News, 18 April).

Smyth served as a Reader in the C of E and other Christian denominations, the new document confirms. It describes him as a “charismatic speaker” who was chair of the Iwerne Trust “from 1974 until 1982 when he was confronted by members of the Trust board with allegations that he had been beating young men.

“This followed an investigation, undertaken on behalf of the Iwerne Trust by two Church of England clergy, the Revd Mark Ruston, then Vicar at the Round Church, Cambridge, and the Revd David Fletcher.

“Following the investigation, the evidence currently available suggests that John Smyth was encouraged by those involved with the Iwerne Trust to seek work overseas. It is believed that the allegations were known at the time to the Headteacher and members of the Board of Governors at Winchester College, as well as the Iwerne Trust. However, no referral was made to police.”

The Round Church “and any associated church which may have promoted the Iwerne Trust,” should also be contacted by the reviewer, it states. The review will be published in full by the NST.

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