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Welby should have done more to stop Smyth, says author

02 September 2021

Andrew Graystone’s book describes ‘cult’ of Iwerne camps

Channel 4 News

Footage from a Channel 4 News report, in February 2017, shows Archbishop Welby leaving the studios of LBC, after being interviewed about John Smyth

Footage from a Channel 4 News report, in February 2017, shows Archbishop Welby leaving the studios of LBC, after being interviewed about John Smyth

ANDREW GRAYSTONE, the author of a new account of the crimes of John Smyth, has said that one of the moments that made him angriest in the five years that it took to research and write the book was Justin Welby’s Channel 4 interview with Cathy Newman in 2019. One of Smyth’s victims, meanwhile, has reacted angrily to being “outed” in the book without being asked by Mr Graystone.

Mr Graystone had worked with Channel 4 on its exposure of Smyth’s violent abuse (News, 10 February 2017). “In six minutes [Archbishop Welby] said 14 things that were not true. I’m not saying he was lying. He may have been badly briefed, or he may have been saying what he wished were true.

“Justin Welby is a good man,” Mr Graystone continued, “but in relation to the Smyth problem, he tends to say what he wants to be true rather than what is. If the question is: ‘Did Justin Welby do everything he was required to do by law and custom?’ the answer is ‘Maybe’. But if the question is: ‘Should he have done more?’ the answer is ‘Yes’.”

Archbishop Welby denies the charge. On Thursday, he issued a further statement on the Smyth affair, saying: “The victims and survivors of the appalling abuse carried about by John Smyth are constantly in my prayers. They deserve the fullest possible justice and support for the trauma they have suffered and continue to suffer.

“I want to take this opportunity to repeat the apology I made on behalf of the Church of England and myself after I met with a group of survivors in May this year. That this abuse was done in the name of Jesus Christ, in a perverted version of spirituality and evangelicalism, is the gravest of sins.”

None the less, the Archbishop repeats: “I volunteered at John Smyth’s camps and I knew him superficially; our relationship was insubstantial and our contact minimal. I was not part of his social or inner circles and knew nothing of his horrendous treatment of those in his care.

“I was first alerted to an allegation in 2013. Together with colleagues at Lambeth Palace, I ensured that the diocese to which the referral had come had informed the police and the diocese of Cape Town, where John Smyth was then residing.”

Although Smyth beat his victims in his garden shed, he made contact with many through camps for public schoolboys run by the Iwerne Trust, which he chaired from 1974 to 1981. He died in Cape Town in August 2018. Mr Graystone’s book, Bleeding for Jesus: John Smyth and the cult of the Iwerne Camps, pre-empts an independent review by Keith Makin, the object of which is to establish what the C of E knew and should have known about the abuse (News, 13 August 2019).

Archbishop Welby also repeats his support for Mr Makin investigation: “I have urged the independent Makin Review to be as comprehensive and strong as it can be, and we continue to encourage anyone with information about John Smyth’s abuses to come forward. Those conducting the review, and the survivors and their families, will remain in my prayers throughout this difficult but vitally important process.”

In his new book, Mr Graystone describes the Iwerne movement as a cult, although he agrees that this description is fiercely contested by its members. He told a Zoom briefing organised by the Religion Media Centre on Tuesday that all the elements of a cult are to be found in the movement. There is the conversion to an entirely different world-view; this is followed by a long process of conditioning, shaping, and educating people in every detail of their lives. Iwerne camps even had dress codes, he said.

In the book, he writes of the very close mentoring that promising young men received. “It is perhaps the nearest that Iwerne came to love. The older leader would take a deep and self-conscious interest in the younger one’s well-being, their studies, their family life, and, of course, their sexual development. The mentor would prove their dedication by getting up early or travelling miles to meet their disciple, sometimes several times a week. They would write endless letters.

“The result was a relationship of respect verging on awe. David Watson speaks of his astonishment when he found himself as a new Christian being mentored by the England cricketer (later Bishop of Liverpool) David Sheppard, who was himself a Nash convert. Nicky Gumbel, who went on to develop the Alpha model of evangelism, was visited at least three times a week during his university career by his mentor, Jonathan Fletcher.”

Finally, Mr Graystone said, there is an element of coercion involved: “Once you’re in, it’s very, very difficult to move out. You lose your friends, you identity, perhaps your vicarage and your home.”

The Vicar of St Andrew the Great, Cambridge, the Revd Alasdair Paine, who is named in the book as one of Smyth’s victims, has issued a personal statement, in which he confirms that this is true, but complains that Mr Graystone “has never contacted me to ask for permission to identify me as a survivor or to tell my story — indeed, he has never asked for my own account”.

Mr Paine’s statement also confirms that, in February 1982, while a student at Cambridge, he reported Smyth’s abuse to the then Vicar of the Round Church, Canon Mark Ruston, who, along with the Revd David Fletcher, a Scripture Union employee, went on to compile a confidential report.

Mr Paine also says that he was contacted by another Smyth victim, in March 2012, who asked Mr Paine to help to find him professional help. After contacting several people, who were unable to help, in July 2013, Mr Paine contacted the safeguarding adviser to the Bishop of Ely, who said that, as a fellow victim, “I should not be expected to arrange support for another survivor, and that I must therefore have no further contact with this survivor; she contacted him herself.”

A statement from the publishers of Bleeding for Jesus, Darton, Longman & Todd, appears unrepentant, saying of Mr Paine: “When eventually he reported the disclosure to his diocesan safeguarding adviser, he told her about only two instances of abuse — his own and Graham’s [the survivor (not his real name) who approached Mr Paine]. He did not tell her what he knew — that Smyth’s abuse had been far more widespread, and that he was still at large and potentially abusing.

“If Alasdair Paine had found the courage to speak earlier, John Smyth might well have faced justice. Victims in the UK might have had a chance to begin healing, and children and young people in Zimbabwe and South Africa might have been spared their abuse.”

The churchwardens of St Andrew’s have written in support of Mr Paine: “It is totally inappropriate and unacceptable that a victim’s name should be publicly revealed without their consent.” They continue: “The right of every survivor to permanent anonymity carries with it the right to keep their experience private and to try to put the experience behind them. Any suggestion that Alasdair was under a duty to publicise his abuse would be nothing short of disgraceful.”


Bleeding for Jesus was published on Thursday by Darton, Longman & Todd at £12.99 (Church Times Bookshop £11.69); 978-1-913657123.

Read more on this story in this week’s Press column here.

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