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NST considers safeguarding complaint against Welby

28 July 2020

PA/Channel 4 News

The Archbishop of Canterbury (left) and John Smyth

The Archbishop of Canterbury (left) and John Smyth

THE National Safeguarding Team (NST) is investigating the Archbishop of Canterbury’s handling of allegations against John Smyth, the Evangelical leader accused of savagely beating boys and young men, who died in South Africa in 2018 before he could be returned to the UK for questioning.

A survivor, “Graham”, made a formal complaint against Archbishop Welby on 12 June, stating that the Archbishop had been told in 2013 of the abuse by Smyth, who ran the evangelistic Iwerne camps and was at one time a Reader in a C of E parish.

Graham accuses the Archbishop of failing to follow church guidelines on the reporting of abuse allegations, arguing that this inaction on the part of the C of E enabled Smyth to continue to be in contact with young men in South Africa, in potentially abusive situations, for a further five years until his death.

The case comes a month after the new Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, admitted a failure to report a case of domestic abuse correctly in a former diocese (News, 29 June), and six weeks after permission to officiate was withdrawn from Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, after further allegations relating to the Smyth case (News, 19 June).

The NST has avoided using the term “investigation” in its statement about the allegation against Archbishop Welby. The Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, complained recently to the NST that it had caused confusion by using the same word for the both initial consideration of whether there is a case to be answered and the subsequent formal investigation instigated by a core group.

The NST talks instead of “reviewing information”. A statement issued on Monday says: “It is in the public domain that when Lambeth was contacted in 2013 about an allegation against Smyth it liaised with the relevant diocese. This was to ensure that the survivor was being supported, police had been informed and that the bishop had contacted the Bishop of Cape Town, where Smyth was then living.

“Since a formal complaint has now been received by the National Safeguarding Team, it is reviewing information and will obviously respond on this to the person who brought the complaint and take any further action if needed.”

A core group has now been set up.

Smyth’s abuse, which involved savage beatings, was made public in a Channel 4 documentary in February 2017 (News, 10 February 2017).

It is understood that Graham first disclosed his abuse by Smyth to a priest in Ely diocese in 2012. The priest, said to be another of Smyth’s victims, delayed for a year before reporting the disclosure to the diocese. By that time, Smyth had moved to Zimbabwe and South Africa, his abuse having been revealed to the trustees of the Iwerne camps in the 1980s. What they knew at the time, and what their successors in the Titus Trust knew subsequently, is currently the subject of investigation.

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. 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.

Graham says that he was told by the Ely safeguarding officer: “The Bishop of Ely wrote to the Bishop of Cape Town [in August 2013]. There was no reply, either then or when I chased it up”; and later: “Unfortunately I have no power to compel agencies in South Africa to respond to my concerns and no professional routes to take this further.”

Archbishop Welby, who had been a dormitory officer at an Iwerne holiday camp in the late 1970s, when Smyth was a leader, was told of the allegation that same month, August 2013. His chaplain corresponded with the Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, and was told that the police had been informed.

Graham says, however, that he never met or was interviewed by anyone from the diocese or Lambeth Palace; nor does he believe that the social services were informed. He says that there is no evidence that Archbishop Welby took any steps to ensure that the allegations were investigated or reported to the authorities in South Africa.

The Archbishop said in an interview with Channel 4 News in April 2019: “I wrote to the Primate in South Africa (News, 18 April 2019).” No record of this letter appears to exist.

Four months after the 2017 documentary was broadcast, Smyth was expelled from his Cape Town church (News, 9 June 2017) It was found that he had regularly taken showers with young men from the church and questioned them about sexual matters. The elders of the church said that they had urged him to return to the UK for police questioning.

Speaking on Channel 4 News on Monday evening, Graham said: “I don't care about John Smyth. He’s dead. I just want the truth told: who knew what when, and what they did and didn’t do about it.

“And I’m afraid from everything we can see, Justin Welby was told relatively early on in the story, seven years ago, and appears to myself to have done virtually nothing.”

He also referred to the Smyth review currently being undertaken by Keith Makin and due to be completed next year (News, 13 August 2019). He called it “depressing and staggering” that it would not report till nine years after he had made his first complaint.

On Tuesday, Graham took issue with the C of E statement, saying that he had not been supported, beyond the offer of £100 for counselling; nor had the police ever been in touch with him.

On the matter of correspondence with Cape Town, he writes: “I have in front of me a copy of the letter the Church is referring to. On the simple matter of facts, it was not addressed to the Archbishop of Cape Town but to Bishop Garth Counsell, the Bishop of Table Bay. There is no evidence that this letter was in fact sent or received.

“What is undisputed is that John Smyth continued in his role as Director of the Justice Alliance of South Africa for a further three years, and that during that time he continued to meet and groom young men in Cape Town.”

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