Independent inquiry to probe Church of England's handling of John Smyth allegations

John Smyth is confronted by Channel 4's Cathy NewmanChannel 4 News

An independent review is to be carried out into the Church of England's handling of allegations against John Smyth. 

Smyth, who died last year at the age of 77, was accused of severely beating boys at his home in Winchester who had been groomed at Iwerne camps.

The holiday camps were designed to instil an evangelical ethos into young Christians with the aim of raising up future leaders in the Church of England. 

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby worked as a dormitory officer at the camps as a young man but has said he did not know of Smyth's abuse. He is expected to give evidence during the review.

The allegations against Smyth were publicly exposed in February 2017 following a Channel 4 News investigation. 

Mr Smyth was first confronted about the allegations in 1982 after an internal report commissioned by Rev Mark Ruston and Rev David Fletcher. The report was not passed on to the police. 

Mr Smyth then left England for Zimbabwe and had been in the process of being extradited back to the UK at the time of his death. 

Fletcher and his brother Jonathan were both part of the Iwerne leadership.  Earlier this year, it emerged that Jonathan Fletcher had been barred from preaching by the Church of England as a result of accusations that he had engaged in "physical discipline" that amounted to spiritual abuse. 

The allegations were passed on to the police who did not take any further action and in a statement, Fletcher denied any wrongdoing. 

The independent review is to be overseen by Keith Makin, a former director of social services, and will consider the response of the Church of England to the allegations. 

In addition to considering the actions of officials within the Church of England, it will also hear testimonies of those who have come forward to say they are victims of Smyth. 

Commenting on the review, the Church of England's lead safeguarding bishop, Peter Hancock said: "I know for survivors of John Smyth this review into the Church's response – and the response of others - is vital to them.

"It was their bravery in coming forward that finally brought the abuse perpetrated by Smyth to the attention of the police and wider Church.

"We commend their actions and I pray that with cooperation from the other organisations the review will be comprehensive and that lessons will be learnt both by the Church and all those involved. We recognise that the process of a review can be a very difficult one, and our thoughts remain with the victims and survivors of John Smyth.

"We remain aware that there are others who were victims of Smyth that have not come forward to the Church and we urge them to make contact if they would like support." 

Anyone wanting to contact the Church for support in connection with the issues raised in this article is being invited to email [email protected]