SURVIVORS of abuse by the disgraced John Smyth QC — who helped to run evangelistic camps for future leaders at Iwerne Minster in the 1970s and ’80s — have said that the Titus Trust, which took over the ministry, should cease to operate.
For its part, the Titus Trust says that it wishes to examine the culture that allowed the abuse to flourish.
The Titus Trust has long attempted to distance itself from the violent abuse perpetrated by Smyth, who chaired the Iwerne Trust from 1974 to 1981. Several survivors have related how they were savagely beaten, and encouraged to beat others, in Smyth’s shed in Winchester. Although none of the abuse is said to have occurred at the camps, the Iwerne Trust investigated allegations in 1982 of abuse carried out by Smyth away from the camps, but kept its findings secret. This allowed Smyth to move unhindered to Southern Africa, where further occurrences of abuse took place. He died in 2018 (News 17 August, 2018).
Last Friday, the Trust, which defines its ministry as “providing Christian activity holidays for children and young people at independent schools”, announced that it had agreed a settlement with three men who had suffered what the Trust describes as “appalling abuse” by Smyth.
Its statement says: “We are devastated that lives have been blighted by a man who abused a position of trust and influence to inflict appalling behaviour on others.” The statement also includes an apology “for any additional distress that has been caused by the way the Titus Trust has responded to this matter”.
On this matter, it says: “We are sorry that the Titus Trust’s earlier public statements were inadequate as explanations of the relevant facts and history, and that some of the language the Trust has used in public statements about these matters has prompted anger on the part of some survivors and others.
“We recognise the impact that this guarded use of language has caused, and apologise if this has contributed in any way to the anguish experienced by the survivors and their families.”
The statement goes on to say that the emergence of details about the abuse committed by Smyth and by the Revd Jonathan Fletcher, a former Minister of Emmanuel Proprietary Chapel, Wimbledon (News, 5 July 2019), “has caused us to reflect deeply on our current culture and the historic influences upon us.
“Although the culture of the camps that the Titus Trust runs today has changed significantly from the Scripture Union camps of the late ’70s and early ’80s, we still want to look hard at our traditions and practices, and to invite feedback from those currently involved and also those who are no longer involved.”
The Trust reports that two reviews have been carried out: an independent review of current safeguarding in its camp by Thirtyone:eight (formerly the Churches’ Child Protection and Advisory Service); and an internal “cultural” review “that considered aspects of our traditions and practices and identified risks to and ways of building healthy cultures across our leaders teams”.
It is shortly to initiate a further review, inviting outsiders to participate in ways that will enable the trust “to look honestly at our culture and its impact on individual behaviour”.
The Titus Trust says that it is now co-operating fully with the independent review of Smyth’s activities led by a former director of social services, Keith Makin (News, 16 August 2019).
On Saturday, a statement by survivors criticised the length of time that it had taken for the Titus Trust to reach this point: eight years after the first victim came forward, and “an astonishing 38 years since the leaders of the Iwerne network were first made aware of the criminal nature of this horrific abuse”.
It is also critical of the approach that the Titus Trust has taken hitherto. “When the abuse came to light, the trustees of the Titus Trust, who now run the Iwerne network, did everything they could to protect their own interests.” It had spent “eye-watering sums of money fighting our claims — many times the amount they have offered us in settlement”.
It describes the Trust’s apology as “limited”, stating: “We note that none of those responsible has resigned. They have not acknowledged the historic cover-up. There is no evidence that the culture of moral superiority, exclusivity and secrecy that has pervaded the network for decades has changed in any way.”
As a result, it concludes: “A culture that has resisted reform in the face of overwhelming evidence of damage over many years is beyond reform. It is our wholehearted belief that, in the light of these events, the Titus Trust and its work should cease immediately.”