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Titus Trust: ‘This is what we knew of John Smyth’s abuse, and when we knew it’

20 August 2021

C4 News

John Smyth, confronted by Channel 4 News in 2017

John Smyth, confronted by Channel 4 News in 2017

A FORMER chair of the Titus Trust was given a sealed envelope containing details of the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth, but did not open it and read the contents for 13 years, it was reported this week.

Giles Rawlinson, who chaired the trust from its incorporation in 1997 until 2014, was given the envelope by Tim Sterry in 2000, when Mr Sterry retired as head of the Scripture Union’s work in independent schools. At the time, Mr Sterry “explained that it was about John Smyth and agreed with Giles Rawlinson that it should not be opened until there was a need to do so”, according to a timeline of events published by the Titus Trust on Friday.

The timeline has been produced 13 days before the publication of Bleeding for Jesus, an account of John Smyth’s abuse produced by Andrew Graystone, who has worked with many of Smyth’s victims.

It was not until November 2013, when the diocese of Ely’s safeguarding officer contacted the Titus Trust about two victims of Smyth’s abuse, that Mr Rawlinson opened the envelope and read its contents in the company of James Stileman, then the Titus Trust’s operations director.

The envelope contained the Ruston report: an investigation commissioned by the Iwerne Trust in 1982, concerning 22 young men’s allegations against Smyth, a barrister who chaired the Iwerne Trust (absorbed into the Titus Trust in 2000) and was a volunteer leader on its holiday camps (News, 17 August 2018). It was prompted by the attempted suicide of one of the young men. It identified the beatings, some of which were administered to children under the age of 18, as criminal.

The author, the Revd Mark Ruston, then Rector of the Round Church, Cambridge, spoke to 18 of the young men, who reported being beaten on their bare skin by Smyth — who used a cane to deliver up to 40 strokes — to punish various “sins”.

Survivors told Mr Ruston: “I could feel the blood spattering down my legs;” “I was bleeding for three and a half weeks;” and “I fainted sometime after a severe beating.” The report said: “it was willfulness, not blindness for John Smyth and his operators — they knew what they were doing was evil.”

The Iwerne Trust, formed in 1945, ran holiday camps for boys at English public schools, in a collaboration with the Scripture Union’s independent schools programme. Smyth was a trustee of the  Scripture Union between 1971 and 1979, and a trustee of the Iwerne Trust from 1970 to 1982 (including a period as chair from 1974 until the end of 1981). He was an Iwerne Trust camp leader between 1964 and 1984. He died in 2018 (News, 17 August 2018).

The Titus Trust was incorporated in 1997. At this point the Iwerne Trust’s assets were passed to the Titus Trust, which took on the financing of the Scripture Union’s independent-schools work from the Iwerne Trust. Titus Trust took over the running of the Iwerne Trust camps in 2000 on Mr Sterry’s retirement, when the envelope was handed over with the agreement not to open it “until there was a need to do so”.

A “lack of professional curiosity” emerged as a key theme of the Scripture Union’s 2019 independent review of the handling of Smyth’s abuse (News, 1 April 2021). The review was given scant credence by the victims interviewed, who saw it rather as “evidence of denial, abdication of responsibility or an indication of dishonesty”, and “wilful blindness”.

The contents of the Ruston report were not news to another Titus Trust trustee, the Revd David Fletcher, who, as the Scripture Union employee responsible for running the Iwerne camps, had worked with Mr Ruston to compile the report before confronting Smyth in 1982. At the time of publication, it was shared with a number of people, including Mr Sterry, then the Scripture Union’s staff worker for preparatory schools.

Smyth moved to Africa in 1984, and continued to run holiday camps in Zimbabwe and South Africa. A Scripture Union review published in 2019 found “firm evidence that John Smyth was encouraged to leave the UK by senior Iwerne staff and alumni”. A full copy of the Ruston report was given to the police by the Titus Trust only in 2017 — 35 years after it was completed.

When Channel 4 News broadcast an investigation into Smyth’s abuse in 2017, the Titus Trust stated that: “It was only in 2014 that the board of the Titus Trust was informed about this matter.” (News, 10 February 2017). But the timeline reveals that trustees and staff were aware of the abuse before this date, and failed to report them to the board or other authorities.

In a statement issued alongside the timeframe on Friday, the Titus Trust said: “We recognise that at times we have failed to show our concern for the victims and survivors of John Smyth’s abuse. The welfare of every victim and survivor should always have been our main priority. . . We are profoundly sorry for the additional pain that we caused for a number of these men.

“In seeking properly to discharge our regulatory duties and in establishing that we did not have legal responsibility for Smyth’s abuse, we have not always displayed all the Christian love and compassion that should be expected of an organisation committed to making the Christian gospel known. We are deeply sorry for the additional pain that we caused for a number of these men and their families.”

But the statement continues: “We hope that this information will show that, while we readily acknowledge that we have made mistakes, there has not been — as some have suggested — any cover-up on our part.” It says that former and current staff and former trustees have been “significantly misrepresented through numerous untrue statements and misleading speculations”.

The statement says: “We wish . . . that more questions had been asked within the Trust before summer 2014. For example, when, in December 2013, the then Chair of the Trust made a reference to something he ‘was dealing with’, all trustees should have insisted on knowing the nature and seriousness of the matter. We are sorry about this too.

“Looking back, we wish that information about what John Smyth had done had been shared with other trustees before it was. While we recognise that such matters were often handled very differently 40 years ago, we certainly believe that Smyth’s abuse should have been reported to the authorities when it was first discovered in 1982. But once the wider body of trustees became aware of what John Smyth had done in June 2014, they acted swiftly in seeking and following the best legal advice available, including ensuring that information was reported to the relevant authorities.”

It refers to “the strong links which exist between the Iwerne Camps of the 1970s and 1980s and those camps run by the Titus Trust today”, but an accompanying FAQ attempts to distance the Iwerne Trust from the abuse, saying that “Scripture Union ran the Iwerne camps until 2000”, and that “the abuse took place many years before the Titus Trust came into existence”.

The Scripture Union’s independent review of the Smyth abuse, a summary of which was published earlier this year (News, 1 April 2021), found “clear failings in safeguarding and governance on the part of Scripture Union”. But it also states: “At the time of Smyth’s involvement, Iwerne Trust, another Christian charity, had financial, management and executive control over the Iwerne Camps. . .

“The Iwerne Trust kept Scripture Union at arm’s length and Scripture Union’s leadership at the time proved unable to exercise any meaningful influence over the camps. . .

“During the 1990s, the confused relationship between Scripture Union and the Iwerne Trust was resolved. Full responsibility for the Iwerne Camps was unequivocally placed in the hands of a new trust, the Titus Trust.”

The Titus Trust initially refused to fund counselling for Smyth’s victims. The statement notes that, since 2017, it has contributed to a joint fund — with the Scripture Union and the C of E — to pay for it, and says that the trust will be “approaching those who we can reach to see whether there is any further help that we may be able to provide”.

It refers to the review of the Smyth abuse commissioned by the Church of England (the Makin review), due to report next year (News, 6 August 2021), as “the best way for us to play our part in this process”, and states that “it is vital for the full truth to be made known in a case like this.”

Victims of Smyth’s abuse have long criticised the actions of the Titus Trust. After Smyth’s death in 2018 (News, 13 August 2018), four issued a statement saying that the charity had “flatly refused to engage with his victims”, saying: “Had the Titus Trust acted on the information that was available to it since its foundation, Smyth’s abuse could have been stopped long ago.”

On Friday, one survivor, Graham, said that the timeline revealed “a catalogue of delays and partial disclosures. Titus are keen to refute the allegations of a cover-up, but any layman would describe this whole timeline as part of a cover-up.”

Another survivor, Andy Morse, said: “Although some of the content is difficult to consider, I’d like to thank Titus today. It is both human and humane of them to share their story rather than remain silent and fake perfection. I’m happy to continue the conversation.”

When Mr Rawlinson resigned as the Titus Trust chair in 2014, he was succeeded in by the Revd Iain Broomfield. Mr Broomfield was suspended on 25 January as Vicar of Christ Church, Bromley, following complaints that include concerns relating to safeguarding, the diocese of Rochester has confirmed.

Mr Broomfield was a senior schools worker at the Iwerne Trust and then the Titus Trust from 1982 until 2000, when he was appointed Vicar of Christ Church, Bromley. He was a trustee of the Titus Trust from 2006 until his resignation in 2018, and chairman from 2015 until 2018.

A statement from the diocese of Rochester said that Mr Broomfield had been suspended “following a number of complaints that have been received about his behaviour. The complaints are various in their focus, with some being of a safeguarding nature. They cover both recent and non-recent events. None of the complaints relate to children and the police are not involved.

“Formal proceedings to investigate the matter are proceeding under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM). It is important to note that suspension is a neutral act which implies no particular outcome but allows an investigation to take place. We will be unable to comment further while the process runs its course, and we hold in prayer all those affected by this matter.”

It is understood that the matters being considered in the CDM process are not linked to the camps.


A digest of the Titus Trust timeline

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