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UK News

Iwerne Christian camp to close following historical abuse

by Cara Bentley

The Christian camp which has had its name tainted by the abuse of former leader John Smyth is to close this summer.

The camp was for boarding school pupils and prep schools in the South of England and is one of four camps run by the Titus Trust. 

The schools eligible will now be invited to attend other Titus Trust camps. 

This has come following an extensive, year-long review which the trust said has been "informed by detailed feedback from school teachers and other stakeholders" and "has paved the way for an agile and more regionally focused approach to organising its popular summer activity holidays."

Its closure however comes after damaging abuse done to boys in the 70s and 80s which only started to receive proper scrutiny in 2017. 

John Smyth QC was a British barrister and was Chairman of the Iwerne camps from 1974 until 1982 and accused of beating young boys who attended in the 70s and 80s at his home away from the camp. 

In 2018, he was on the point of facing extradition to the UK from South Africa to be interviewed by Hampshire Police when he suffered a heart attack and died on 11th August.

Alleged victims, often men now over 50, said they were denied closure and justice. 

A current Anglican bishop was one of those to speak out - the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, claimed he was targeted once and that it was "violent, excruciating and shocking".

The Archbishop of Canterbury also knew John Smyth from the camps but says he did not know of any abuse at the time. 

A group which represents Smyth's victims (which they say are "in excess of 110"), responded via spokesperson Andrew Graystone, saying: “The Titus Trust has released a statement saying that they will no longer use the name Iwerne for their camps. There is no suggestion in the statement that they have reflected at all on the culture and theology of their movement. 

"They continue to refuse to face up to the past of the movement, or to reach out to men who have been physically, sexually and spiritually abused within the Iwerne network.” 

In a separate statement this April, The Titus Trust said: "The emergence of details about the abuse by John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher has caused us to reflect deeply on our current culture and the historic influences upon us. Although the culture of the camps that The Titus Trust runs today has changed significantly from the Scripture Union camps of the late 70s and early 80s we still want to look hard at our traditions and practices and to invite feedback from those currently involved and also those who are no longer involved."

There have been reviews into what was known taking place. Last summer, the Church of England announced a review into the handling of abuse allegations, by independent reviewers, with its completion now expected in 2021. 

In an update, the Church said: "The review, led by Keith Makin and supported by Sarah Lawrence, has to date focussed on engagement with victims and survivors who have bravely provided invaluable and full accounts of the abuse. In addition, the reviewers have continued to receive contact from individuals and organisations wishing to submit accounts and written materials of vital interest. This has been wider than could have been anticipated when the review began."

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