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Former Jesus Army members now expected to seek compensation

25 November 2022

The Jesus Army’s domain name, jesus.org.uk, which is being used as the main vehicle for the redress scheme

The Jesus Army’s domain name, jesus.org.uk, which is being used as the main vehicle for the redress scheme

HUNDREDS of former members of the Jesus Army are expected to seek compensation for abuse they say they suffered while part of the now-defunct sect.

A compensation scheme was launched in September for anyone who was “sexually physically or emotionally abused” or had an “adverse community experience” while part of the Northamptonshire-based organisation, such as being denied social interaction or education opportunities (News, 30 September).

A solicitor, Malcolm Johnson, who is acting for more than 70 people who have registered for compensation, said that a trustee had told him before the launch that about 250 people had registered their interest in the scheme.

The Church Times understands that the total number of claimants could run into four figures.

The scheme was launched by the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust, which, since December 2020, has comprised professional trustees brought in to dissolve the organisation and its assets, which included a number of large properties where members lived in community.

Under the scheme, which has been voted for by members, applicants may receive a lump sum based on the severity of the abuse they suffered, as well as help with counselling fees, an invitation to share their story with a trustee of the church closing team, and a written apology that places responsibility for the abuse with the Jesus Army, which has also been known as the Jesus Fellowship Army, and the Jesus Fellowship Church.

A document about the redress scheme on the Jesus Army website explains that typical payments include up to £50,000 for rape, and smaller sums for other sexual acts and emotional and physical abuse.

Mr Johnson, a specialist in abuse claims at Lime Solicitors, told the Church Times: “It appears that most of the abusers were people who were leaders.” He said that he was representing “people who were born and brought up in the church, people who joined with their parents at a young age. Then we’ve got people who join the church as adults or possibly 17- or 18-year olds . . . an awful lot of women subject to sexual abuse, [apparently] by senior members of the church, who simply regarded young, single women as fair game.”

After Stanton’s death in 2009, the organisation handed over claims of sexual offences committed by him and others to Northamptonshire Police. A “closure statement” dated November 2021 states: “As of August 2021, the Jesus Fellowship has received 22 allegations of abuse against Noel Stanton. This includes serious incidents of sexual, physical, financial and emotional abuse. The Trustees believe it is likely Noel Stanton was at times the instigator of, or was at other times involved in, the abuse of both children and adults.”

A 2019 witness statement by a detective inspector in Northamptonshire Police to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse lists six former members of the Jesus Army, all male, who have been convicted of sexual offences. Two of them were imprisoned, and a third man, who had been based in Preston, was also imprisoned.

“From the people that I’ve spoken to . . . it was widely known that abuse was going on; people just didn’t talk about it.” A page on the website of the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association, which Mr Johnson is representing, quotes one “survivor” as saying that Stanton “had absolute authority and could not be questioned”. Another says: “Having women offered up as ‘available’ in elders’ meetings ensured men viewed women as property.”

Mr Johnson, who has also brought abuse cases against the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, said that religious organisations sometimes mistake religious doctrine for safeguarding. “For instance, the idea of forgiveness has no place in safeguarding; safeguarding is about . . . protecting people and recognising the risk of abuse.”

The Jesus Army’s domain name, jesus.org.uk, is being used as the main vehicle for the redress scheme, but, once that ends, it could be sold off as part of the closure process, the Church Times understands.

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