Will anyone ever be held to account over John Smyth?


It is almost exactly ten years since I first disclosed the abuse by John Smyth QC in the 1970s and 1980s. It is also coming up to five years since the Channel 4 programmes that first brought this to the public’s attention. A Review was announced by the Lead Bishop for Safeguarding on 13 August 2018, the day after John Smyth died. It is now 28 months after that Lessons Learned Review was announced as starting.

And I am tired. I cannot put this episode behind me until the story is told, and someone is held to account. I long for it to “be over”, if that can ever be the case. I have given evidence to six investigations/Reviews. I am exhausted.

Enough is in the public domain, is known. There have now been four published Reviews (if you include Scripture Union, the Titus Timeline, the Titus Cultural Review and the Advance Report). There have been television programmes, many, many articles and now a book. The book is extraordinary in its detail and research (those who pick up on grammar or apostrophes deflect from the full horror of its story). Complaints have been made, investigations launched and Keith Makin has a mechanism for passing concerning behaviour to The National Safeguarding Team (NST) under Clause 3.1.6 of his Terms of Reference. Yet, silence. Nothing has happened to anyone (bar, briefly, George Carey) in five years.

Let us start with NST. I was staggered and depressed in 2018 to discover that there was no Core Group on John Smyth. It was disbanded the day he died. There was no continuing investigation, no Case Officer with a file on John Smyth. I will put on record: I have never been formally interviewed by the Diocese of Ely (where I went first) or by the NST. No one from the Church of England has asked me to tell my story. There is little knowledge within NST of the full horror of the abuse.

So, what of referrals under Clause 3.1.6 which refers to “allegations or failures to respond properly” which must be “brought to the immediate attention of the ……Director of Safeguarding..”?  We are told referrals have been made. George Carey, probably a very peripheral figure, was immediately suspended, though this was quickly reversed. No other person referred under 3.1.6 has, to the best of my knowledge, been subject to any kind of censure or sanction.

This was brought to the attention of Archbishop Justin in the one, short, meeting that he has deigned to give the victims of John Smyth in the last five years. His statement, in May 2021, immediately afterwards was very clear: “These victims are rightly concerned that no one appears to have faced any sanction yet, when it made clear that a number of Christians, clergy and lay, were made aware of the abuse in the 1980s and many learned in subsequent years….I have made it clear that the National Safeguarding Team will investigate every clergy person or others within its scope of whom they have been informed who knew and failed to disclose the abuse”. While this has apparently now got two case workers investigating, after seven months, I have still not been asked for the list I showed the Archbishop briefly on the screen. And no one has faced any sanction that we are aware.

Then, other opportunities. A vast amount of new information was provided in the Andrew Graystone’s book, Bleeding for Jesus. For those suspicious of a journalist, who want other sources, there has been a vast amount of detail published in the four reviews/reports mentioned above. Any one of those might have triggered further investigation and action. Yet, they pass by, soon forgotten and the victims see no response. I question whether NST have even read those reports in forensic detail?

What about the Makin Review? First, we may not see this until the end of 2022, nearly six years after the Channel 4 broadcast. But I have asked repeatedly of the Director of Safeguarding whether these are not two different processes. Keith Makin has no powers under the Church of England disciplinary processes. He can make discoveries, and pass them to NST, but he remains an independent reviewer, with no powers. It is for NST and the Church of England to initiate the necessary processes, investigate, and apply the appropriate sanctions. So, whenever I am told “wait for the Makin Review”, I ask whether there is not ample already in the public domain to initiate proceedings?

Where do I see blame? Who do victims want held to account? We must not forget, our abuser is dead. He alone is responsible for the abuse we suffered. However, he could and should have been stopped at many points in this story. And all who had some degree of knowledge, but stood by as “Observers”, in the language of abuse, sit on the spectrum of fault.

Most culpable are those who had full knowledge of the abuse after the Ruston Report in 1982. They knew the horror. Anyone reading the Ruston Report knew of blood, nappies and criminality. Some of this group are alive. And untouched. David and Jonathan Fletcher. Roger Combes. They are the most culpable for failing to stop John Smyth’s abuse of African kids for the next thirty five years.

There are then those who had some degree of knowledge in the 1980s, even if it is not claimed they saw the Ruston Report. Dean David Connor, Archbishop Justin Welby, who has only recently admitted he was tipped off about Smyth in 1983. Did they have any responsibility to check what Smyth was doing next? To keep an eye on him ? Did any of this group, in the subsequent years ask themselves what Smyth was up to, or hear that he was running camps again? A child died. Repeat that: Guide Nyachuru died, when many knew what Smyth was capable of, and was in fact doing.

In the mid 1990s, there was an enormous, missed opportunity. The activities of Smyth were again brought to many people’s attention. It was not just the Bulawayo Pastors and lawyer David Coltart who doggedly tried to shut down Smyth, and then to prosecute him. They referred to the UK for details of the Ruston Report and were told, by David Fletcher, and victims such as Alasdair Paine, exactly what had happened around the Ruston Report. The UK fundraising trust, the Zambesi Trust, imploded, but quickly found new Trustees and financial backers. Even after meetings in Zimbabwe  with those concerned, Jamie Colman continued to support John Smyth. And still, no one in the UK was willing to name Smyth, “out” him and stop his practices using the media. The Work was too valuable.

In 2012, I came forward. Yet, rather than investigate, and stop John Smyth, I was met by denial and distancing by Titus Trust. They refused any offer of counselling, and the two Titus reports lay out how they denied responsibility. But it was not just Titus. In 2013, my disclosure in the Diocese of Ely was passed to NST and Lambeth. By autumn 2013, five Bishops and one Archbishop had notice, and significant detail about the beatings. Yet still Smyth was not stopped. Are they not culpable ? Do they not have some moral and legal responsibility towards those abused in Cape Town after 2013?

Then, subsequent to the Channel 4 programme? What of those who have lied? Or told untruths? What of those who in media interviews have laid a smokescreen of “he wasn’t Anglican”: he patently was. What of those now claiming amnesia, or claiming that they “knew about beatings, but did not realise how bad it was”. In the ConEvo world of Iwerne and Titus I have had only two people offer full, open, heart-rending sorrow and lament. I am blanked by the rest.

So, in the spectrum of knowledge and fault, there are many, many people. Their involvement, their roles are known. Yet, no one has been held to account.

NST, Church of England, what more do you want?