The Titus Trust (formerly known as the Iwerne Trust) has reached a settlement with three men who reportedly suffered appalling abuse by John Smyth QC during the 1970s and 80s.
Smyth was chairman of the Iwerne Trust from 1974 until 1981. The Iwerne Trust operated Christian holiday camps during which the abuse allegedly occurred.
Details of the alleged abuse initially came to light in 1982, when one boy attempted suicide in order to avoid another beating. The Iwerne Trust commissioned an internal investigation. It found that boys were given “horrific beatings” while naked or semi-naked. Smyth administered tens of thousands of lashes with a garden cane, supposedly to purge boys of minor sins such as masturbation and pride.
The beatings, which took place in a shed in the garden of Smyth’s Winchester home, were reportedly so intense that many victims were left with lasting scars. The internal investigation concluded that the “scale and severity of the practice was horrific”.
The report was not published and Smyth was not reported to the police. He was allowed to move to Southern Africa on the basis that he would never work with children again.
Despite that he continued to operate camps in Zimbabwe. In 1992 he was charged in connection with the death of a teenage boy who drowned in a swimming pool at a camp in 1992. There was also evidence that he had continued to physically abuse children for sexual gratification.
Smyth died in 2018 soon after Hampshire police had requested that he return to the UK for questioning.
The scandal has embroiled the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welsby who worked at the holiday camps in the 1970s. Welby has apologised on behalf of the Church of England but denied having had any knowledge of the abuse at the time.
The Titus Trust has apologised for the abuse and says that it has implemented the recommendations of an independent review into its safeguarding practices. A group of Smyth’s victims have, however, called for the Trust to disband on the basis that it has protected its own interests and failed to offer care and support to victims.
It has also been suggested that the abuse at the holiday camps was not limited to Smyth and there were other abusers operating. It is possible that further allegations will emerge over time as victims come forward.
Nicholas Leigh, Associate, BLM