Archbishop of Canterbury issues 'unreserved and unequivocal' apology after admitting he worked at summer camps where teenage boys were groomed for abuse
By Kate Pickles
February 1, 2017
|The Archbishop of Canterbury admitted working at a camp where boys were subjected to beatings|
|John Smyth (pictured), who was chairman of the Iwerne Trust, a charity closely linked to the church which ran Christian holiday camps for public school children, has been accused of severely beating boys and young men|
|A spokesman for Winchester College said that no report was made at the time because the parents of the victims felt they should be spared further trauma|
The Archbishop of Canterbury issued an ‘unreserved and unequivocal’ apology yesterday on behalf of the Church of England after an investigation revealed that a former colleague was accused of abuse spanning decades.
John Smyth, who was chairman of the Iwerne Trust, a charity closely linked to the church which ran Christian holiday camps for public school children, has been accused of beating boys and young men severely.
The Church discovered the alleged abuse in 1982 but failed to report it to police, a Channel 4 News investigation found. Winchester College, where some of the alleged victims met Mr Smyth, was also aware of the allegations but did not alert police, it was reported.
A statement last night on behalf of the Archbishop said: ‘We recognise that many institutions fail catastrophically, but the Church is meant to hold itself to a far, far higher standard and we have failed terribly.
‘For that the Archbishop apologises unequivocally and unreservedly to all survivors.’
Approached on camera, Mr Smyth, a QC and part-time judge, said: ‘I’m not talking about what we did at all.’
The allegations follow a six-month investigation during which reporters tracked down and spoke to many of Mr Smyth’s alleged victims, who claimed they were beaten so badly that they had to wear nappies to stop the bleeding.
Justin Welby was a dormitory officer at an Iwerne Trust camp where Mr Smyth was one of the main leaders in the late Seventies. They later exchanged ‘the occasional card’, Lambeth Palace said last night.
During his time at Winchester College in the late Seventies and Eighties, Mr Smyth met many teenagers, and is said to have invited those he favoured to his home for Sunday lunch.
The alleged victims, who are now in their fifties, allege he would recite Bible passages before beating them with a cane in his garden shed. Richard Gittins, who met Mr Smyth at Magdalene College, Cambridge, said the boys would wear nappies when they said grace together in the formal hall.
In 1981, one alleged victim became so fearful of the beatings that he tried to take his life, prompting an investigation. The Iwerne Trust wrote a report into the beatings of 22 men.
‘The scale and severity of the practice was horrific. Eight received about 14,000 strokes: two of them having some 8,000 strokes over three years,’ according to the 1982 document.
It led to a senior trust member writing to Mr Smyth, urging him to leave the country.
Mr Smyth, a moral crusader who made his name as a barrister representing the Christian campaigner Mary Whitehouse in a landmark prosecution against the Gay News newspaper, went on to live in Zimbabwe and South Africa.
Lambeth Palace said the police had been notified of the allegations by 2013.
The Iwerne Trust, which was absorbed by The Titus Trust in 2000, said: ‘It was only in 2014 that the board of The Titus Trust was informed about this, after which we submitted a serious incident report to the Charity Commission and provided full disclosure to the police. The allegations should have been reported to the police when they first became known in 1981.’
A Winchester College spokesman said no report was made at the time because the parents of the victims felt they should be spared further trauma.
‘Winchester College deeply regrets the terrible ordeals of the victims. The College has never sought to conceal these dreadful events. The then headmaster met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the College or contact its pupils.’
The statement from the Church of England yesterday acknowledges the relationship between the Archbishop and Smyth, who continued to 'exchange cards' even after he moved abroad.
Lambeth Palace said: ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury was a dormitory officer at Iwerne holiday camp in the late 1970s, where boys from public schools learnt to develop life as Christians. The role was to be a mentor to the boys, as was that of his now wife at a similar camp for girls.
‘John Smyth was one of the main leaders at the camp and although the Archbishop worked with him, he was not part of the inner circle of friends; no one discussed allegations of abuse by John Smyth with him.
‘The Archbishop left England to work in Paris for an oil company in 1978, where he remained for five years.
‘The Archbishop knew Mr Smyth had moved overseas but, apart from the occasional card, did not maintain contact with him.’