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New information, passed on to police, delays Makin review of John Smyth case

18 April 2023

C4 News

John Smyth is confronted by Channel 4 News in 2017. He died in 2018 before he could face trial

John Smyth is confronted by Channel 4 News in 2017. He died in 2018 before he could face trial

THE Church of England’s Learning Lessons Review of the abuse perpetrated by the late John Smyth has been delayed again, because new information has been reported to the police in recent weeks.

This information was discovered by the independent reviewer, Keith Makin, in the course of his work, which last year was said to be in the final stages of completion (News, 16 December 2022). Consultation with victims had been due to begin on 9 January.

Mr Makin said in a statement released on Tuesday: “I have made a report to the Police regarding matters that have come to light in recent weeks and in the course of my review, into the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth. I have subsequently passed extensive information to them in relation to this matter. This necessary development is in line with my obligations set out in the terms of reference for the review and in UK law and is therefore unavoidable.

“This impacts on the planned timescale for completion of the review, and I am aware from my regular contact with victims, of the distress that this is likely to cause them, their families, and others affected by this case. A further update on this will be provided as soon as is possible.”

This delay means that the review, announced in 2018 by the former lead bishop for safeguarding, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, and first due to report in May 2020, will be three years’ overdue next month. It is unclear whether the review is now on hold, pending police action.

The Church Times understands that Mr Makin has been unable to disclose the relevant extracts from the report to the people named and criticised in it (to comment on factual accuracy) while the new information is considered by the police. He is confident, however, on the basis of what the police have said to him, that this will not be a long drawn-out process.

The violent abuse perpetrated by Mr Smyth against children and young adults 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 chairman of the Iwerne Trust (later the Titus Trust), which ran holiday camps for boys from English public schools. He died in 2018 before he could face trial (News, 13 August 2018).

Survivors have criticised the Church for slowness in completing the review. In 2019, the General Synod was told that initial delays were due to failure to secure the co-operation of all the main organisations involved: the Titus Trust, Winchester College, and the Scripture Union (News, 1 March 2019). Mr Makin, a former director of social services, was appointed to undertake the work later that year (News, 16 August 2019). He was initially due to deliver his report in 2020, but its completion was further delayed by the pandemic (News, 1 May 2020).

An independent review of the Smyth case commissioned by Winchester College reported in January last year (News, 21 January 2022).

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