Sadistic Christian ‘morality campaigner’ accused of abuse
In a programme scheduled to be screened tonight (Friday) Channel 4 News will report that John Smyth QC, above, a former friend of the Archbishop of Canterbury now living in South Africa, had forced young men to endure savage beatings after grooming them at Christian holiday camps in the late Seventies.
An Ungodly Crime? will be will be broadcast at 7pm GMT.
Smyth, according to The Telegraph, left Britain amidst child abuse claims and was later charged with killing a teenage boy in Zimbabwe. The 16-year-old – Guide Nyacharu – was found dead in a swimming pool at one of Smyth’s Zimbabwe holiday camps. The charge of culpable homicide against Smyth was subsequently dismissed.
Hampshire Police this week launched an investigation into claims that Smyth – described by the Most Rev Justin Welby as a “charming and delightful” man – carried out the brutal assaults at Christian holiday camps in the late Seventies.
The barrister, now a deeply homophobic “morality campaigner” in South Africa, was also accused of swimming naked with Zimbabwean teenagers, showering with them in the nude, and encouraging them to talk about masturbation.
One alleged victim told the broadcaster that Smyth administered savage beatings with wooden bats, in a chilling echo of the allegations made against him in Britain.
Smyth, 75, was the head of the Iwerne Trust, a Christian charity, in the late Seventies, when he ran holiday camps for boys from elite public schools that were also attended by the Archbishop.
On Tuesday Welby issued an “unreserved and unequivocal” apology after it emerged that the barrister and part-time judge had not been reported to the police after the British abuse claims were were made known to the Christian charity in 1982.
Smyth moved to Zimbabwe in 1984, where he founded Zambesi Ministries, which recruited boys from that nation’s leading schools to take part in holidays similar to the Iwerne camps.
In 1997 he was arrested over claims that he had killed Nyachuru. He also faced charges of injuring the dignity of five other boys who said they had been subjected to savage beatings.
Court documents from the time state:
The particular allegations are that [Mr Smyth] made the complainants walk naked to the swimming pool at night; that he took showers with them in the nude; that he talked to them about masturbation and told them to be proud of their ‘dicks’ as Jesus Christ had one; and that he assaulted them on their ‘rear bare buttocks’ with a table tennis bat.
The case against Mr Smyth collapsed in 1998, after he successfully persuaded Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court that prosecutors had overstated the claims and failed to follow proper procedures.
A lawyer involved in the case told The Telegraph he had been “shocked” after the barrister privately admitted showering with the boys, and said he had warned Mr Smyth to stop.
Channel 4 News has tracked down boys who attended the camps, who insist that the allegations are true.
Nyachuru’s sister, Edith, said that had Church authorities reported Mr Smyth to the police in Britain in 1982:
My brother wouldn’t meet the fate he met.
Approached by Cathy Newman, the Channel 4 newsreader, Smyth said Nyachuru’s death was:
A very unfortunate drowning incident.
He said he had not left Britain because of abuse claims, but because:
God called us to Zimbabwe.
The Archbishop yesterday pledged to co-operate fully with a police investigation into his former friend.
In an interview this week, he repeated his “unreserved and unequivocal” apology to the alleged victims. He insisted he had “never heard anything at all” about the abuse claims, and had never encountered beatings in his religious life.
It has emerged that two friends of the Archbishop have known of the abuse claims since they first came to light, although a spokesman said neither informed Welby of the allegations.
One, the Reverend David Fletcher, was the trustee of the Iwerne Trust who led the investigation into the incidents. Fletcher opted not to pass the claims to police. He said:
My top priority was that John Smyth should be stopped and second that the men he beat were cared for.
One of the alleged victims complained to the Church again in 2013 and it was only then referred to the police.
When approached by Channel 4 News about the claims Smyth said:
I’m not talking about that. I don’t know anything about that.
In a statement, Lambeth Palace said the Archbishop’s Chaplain showed Welby a letter that had been written by the Bishop of Ely in August 2013 to the Bishop of Cape Town, referring to “concerns” expressed by “an alleged survivor” after the police were informed.
It also said that while the archbishop knew Smyth had moved overseas, he did not keep in contact with him, “apart from the occasional card”.
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.
The Titus Trust took over the Iwerne Trust in 2000 and said it was only informed about the allegations in 2014. It then submitted a serious incident report to the Charity Commission and provided full disclosure to the police.
A statement from the organisation said:
The allegations are very grave and they should have been reported to the police when they first became known in 1981.
Graham Tilby, the Church of England’s national safeguarding adviser, said the abuse should never have happened, adding:
We utterly condemn this behaviour and abuse of power and trust. Clearly more could have been done at the time to look further into the case. We now have a dedicated central team made up of six full time posts – we will be reviewing all files making further enquiries as necessary.
We echo the Archbishop’s unreserved and unequivocal apology to all the survivors and are committed to listen to anyone who comes forward and we would urge anyone with any further information to report it to the police.
When Whitehouse took a private prosecution against Gay News and its editor in the 1970s, it was Smyth – whom she described as an evangelical Christian – who won the case for her. Whitehouse objected to a poem in the newspaper about a centurion’s love for Christ, and the newspaper and its editor were found guilty of blasphemous libel.
Smyth told the court:
It may be said that this is a love poem – it is not, it is a poem about buggery.
He also initially acted for Whitehouse in her failed prosecution against the National Theatre production of Howard Brenton’s play The Romans in Britain, which simulated a male rape on stage.
The evangelical lawyer has been an outspoken critic of gay people throughout his career.
When he moved to South Africa, he set up an outfit called the Justice Alliance. Its website was recently been taken down.
In 2005 he was one of an outspoken group who opposed gay marriage equality in South Africa.
Hat tip: Agent Cormac and BarrieJohn