THE Bishop Of Guildford has revealed he was “one of the survivors” of former QC John Smyth, alleged to be responsible for the sadomasochistic abuse of teenage boys at Christian summer camps in the 1970s and 1980s.
Last week, Channel 4 News reported allegations of beatings by Smyth, who now lives in South Africa. The allegations first came to light in 1981, but neither the Iwerne Trust, which organised the summer camps, nor Winchester College, some of whose pupils were allegedly beaten by Smyth, informed the police.
A survivor came forward to the Church of England in 2013, which informed the police, but no action was taken for three years.
Hampshire Police are now investigating the allegations that Smyth was responsible for the abuse of teenage boys in the 1970s and 1980s. The police appealed for anyone with information to come forward.
The failure to prosecute Smyth in the early 1980s allowed him to start afresh in Zimbabwe. But while in Zimbabwe he was the subject of fresh allegations of physical abuse by boys in his care.
“I am one of the survivors of John Smyth’s appalling activities in the late 1970s and early ‘80s,” the Right Rev Andrew Watson said. “I am also one of the bishops in the Church of England. This has placed me in a unique and challenging position when it comes to the events of the past few days.
“My own story is certainly less traumatic than that of some others. I was drawn into the Smyth circle, as they were, and the beating I endured in the infamous garden shed was violent, excruciating and shocking; but it was thankfully a one-off experience never to be repeated.
“A while later one of my friends attempted suicide on the eve of another session in the shed, a story movingly told in the Channel 4 report, and at that point I and a friend shared our story.
“I have been in contact with the Hampshire Police over the weekend, and it would not be appropriate to say much more at this time, except that my profoundest prayers are with all those affected by this, and my heartfelt desire is that lessons might be learnt so this never happens again.
“I am grateful to the Archbishop of Canterbury for his apology to survivors on behalf of the Church, and don’t begin to believe that he knew anything of Smyth’s violent activities until his office was informed in 2013.
“I would also like to express the concern of myself and some of my fellow survivors that we are seen as people and not used as pawns in some political or religious game.
“Abusers espouse all theologies and none; and absolutely nothing that happened in the Smyth shed was the natural fruit of any Christian theology that I’ve come across before or since.
“It was abuse perpetrated by a misguided, manipulative and dangerous man, tragically playing on the longing of his young victims to live godly lives.”
Appealing for victims to come forward, Hampshire Police said: “We are investigating allegations of non-recent physical abuse involving a senior figure at the Iwerne Trust.
“We have contacted those victims whose information has been provided to us and we would encourage anyone else with any information about these events to contact our dedicated investigation team via 101, quoting Op Cubic.”