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Church safeguarding review of John Smyth case nearing its end

15 December 2022

Survivors have criticised the Church for its slowness in completing the review

Channel 4 News

John Smyth

John Smyth

THE Learning Lessons Review in the John Smyth case is “reaching its final stages”, the National Safeguarding Team (NST) said this week.

The violent abuse perpetrated by Mr Smyth came to public attention almost six years ago, after an investigation by Channel 4 News (News, 10 February 2017). Mr Smyth, a QC, was the former chair of the Iwerne Trust (later the Titus Trust), which ran holiday camps for boys at English public schools. He died in 2018 before he could face trial (News, 13 August 2018).

Survivors have criticised the Church for its slowness in completing the review, which was first promised in August 2018. In 2019, the General Synod was told that the delay was caused by a failure to secure the co-operation of all the key organisations involved: the Titus Trust, Winchester College, and Scripture Union (News, 1 March 2019).

A former director of social services, Keith Makin, was appointed to undertake the work later that year (News, 16 August 2019), and was initially due to deliver his report in 2020. The completion of the review was further delayed, however, by the pandemic (News, 1 May 2020).

An update from the NST this week stated that known survivors and victims had been informed of progress. It said that the review team had analysed previously unpublished documents, including correspondence and notes from the relevant period.

“The material gathered, including testimonies, written statements and witness statements has been extensive, and far greater than originally envisaged,” the NST said.

Consultation with victims will begin during the week beginning 9 January. “Once this is completed, it will be followed by a representations process involving individuals and organisations who will be named and criticised in the published report.”

The statement acknowledges that the further delays may be distressing. “The review team and NST regret this necessary further delay, which they recognise will understandably be disappointing for victims and survivors. The NST has arranged continued support for victims.”

The statement concludes: “The NST continues to look into every clergy person of whom they have been informed, within the scope of the Terms of Reference, who may have failed to disclose Smyth’s abuse.”

Charity Commission appeal. A letter has been sent to the Charity Commission asking it to investigate the Church of England’s safeguarding practices. The 51 signatories include lay and ordained church members, survivors, and some elected members of General Synod.

The signatories express concern about safeguarding policies and practice in the Church of England, referring to “a highly dysfunctional church culture” that is “uniformly poor in responses to allegations of abuse”.

The Church lacks any “functional leadership” in safeguarding, the letter says; “current safeguarding processes, bodies, panels, and their personnel are incompetent, ineffective and unfit for purpose.”

A Church of England spokesperson said: “The Church is committed to the highest standards of safeguarding and this is carried out by professionals both nationally and in its 42 dioceses who support parish safeguarding officers who work in every church across the country. The Church is always open to scrutiny of its processes and will listen and respond to concerns when raised.”

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