Smyth beat more than 100 boys, court papers suggest

31 May 2019

Channel 4 News

John Smyth

John Smyth

JOHN SMYTH beat more than 100 boys over 30 years while he was running Christian holiday camps in the UK and Zimbabwe, documents seen by the Church Times suggest.

Smyth, who died last August, had been accused of administering brutal beatings in his garden shed to boys whom he had befriended at camps run by the Iwerne Trust in the UK in the 1970s.

A six-month Channel 4 News investigation, broadcast in February 2017, found that both the Iwerne Trust, now part of the Titus Trust, and Winchester College had learned of allegations of abuse by Smyth in the 1980s, but had failed to report them to the police (News, 10 February 2017).

Channel 4 also reported that a “senior figure” in the Trust wrote to Smyth to tell him to leave the country. Smyth moved to Zimbabwe, where he continued to run holiday camps for Zambezi Ministries; and then to South Africa.

In 1997, Smyth was put on trial in connection with the death of a 16-year-old boy, Guide Nyachuru, who was found dead in a swimming pool at a Zambezi camp, in 1992. Smyth was charged with culpable homicide and five counts of assault alleged to have occurred in April 1993. The case collapsed after it was decided that the prosecutor had a conflict of interest.

The heads of argument from Smyth’s defence statement, heard by the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe in Harare in October 1997, and seen by this paper, suggest that 90 boys had raised allegations against Smyth.

It had been alleged, the document states, that Smyth “assaulted five boys with a table tennis bat, that he showered in the nude with them and others, and that he spoke to them sexually explicit matters. . .

“The State has selected five out of ninety boys who are alleged complainants in respect of what happened over a five-day period in April 1993.”

A witness statement from one of the five boys, also seen by the Church Times this week, states that, on the first night of the camp, Smyth had come to the boys’ dormitory after lights out. “He told us that we were all to go skinny-dipping,” the statement says. The witness states that he was told to go to Smyth’s office the next day, where he was beaten for leaving his underpants to dry outside.

The witness describes Smyth’s “disturbing” mood-swings before, during, and after the beatings.

He states that he was beaten again that day for having a “rumpled” bed, and again a few days later. On the last day of the camp, Smyth “had a box, from which he produced eight sweet wrappers” which he had found in the football field, the witness states. When no one admitted responsibility, he says, “Smyth then instructed that we were all to be beaten (60 boys).”

Several survivors of Smyth’s abuse launched a civil claim against the Titus Trust last year (News, 24 August 2018). Andrew Graystone, an advocate for the survivors, said that he was aware of 26 victims in the UK, of whom two are deceased, bringing the estimated number of alleged victims to 116.

He said: “I have spent the last three years researching Smyth’s life and his abuse. One of the most alarming and difficult facts of the case is that so many people in the Church have deliberately chosen to look away. . .

“Archbishop Welby is aware that I have this information, too, but for the last two and a half years he has chosen not to ask for it.”

A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace said: “We would urge anyone who has information pertaining to victims of abuse to give it to the police or relevant statutory authorities immediately.”

The Archbishop has always maintained that at no time was he aware of the abuse taking place. It is understood that he has offered to meet survivors, and that he is committed to a review taking place with or without other parties involved.

Last month, a group of survivors wrote to Lambeth Palace to correct the Archbishop of Canterbury’s assertion that Smyth was “not actually an Anglican” — a comment made during an interview on Channel 4 News (News, 18 April). The letter lists 14 points of dispute about the Archbishop’s comments, including that Smyth had been a licensed Reader in the diocese of Winchester.

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