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John Smyth used ‘unrestricted access’ to Christian Forum at Winchester College to abuse boys, review finds

by Kelly Valencia

An independent review into the abuse committed by late John Smyth at Winchester College has revealed he used his “unrestricted access” to the school and to its pupils to sexually and spiritually abuse boys.

The former chairman of the Iwerne camps and Anglican leader was found to have beaten at least 22 boys during the 1970s and 1980s but was never imprisoned as he moved to Zimbabwe and died in South Africa in 2018.

Following the allegations first brought to light in 2017, Winchester college, Scripture Union and the Church of England all launched independent investigations into the allegations.

Led by two independent experts, Jan Pickles OBE and Genevieve Woods, Winchester college’s review has concluded Smyth’s way into the school was through the Christian Forum, an evangelical group that met on Sundays.  

According to the report, Smyth would be invited to the group as a guest speaker once a month but he attended between 30 and 40 per cent of the meetings.

“A former pupil said that Smyth attended on some Sundays just to listen. He said that he remembered thinking it was odd that he was just sitting in the library listening at Christian Forum meetings as he was not a member of Winchester College staff,” the investigation reads.

Smyth would “build intense relationships with the boys” by inviting them for lunch on Sundays and by “having conversations with them about sexual activities” such as “discussion and disclosure of masturbation and impure thoughts so that it became normal conversation within that special group.”

One victim said he “felt compelled to tell Smyth everything he asked of him and he believed that he used techniques of cross-examination on the boys.”

The report also revealed Smyth encouraged boys not to trust their housemasters and used theological arguments to explain his behaviour.

“Smyth told the boys that they had been chosen by God to do great things and that he had been sent by God to be his ‘spiritual father’ on Earth,” the review said.

 “As their spiritual father, he said he had the right and duty to discipline ‘his sons’,” and quoted Proverbs 13:24.

“He told the boys that they could show gratitude to Jesus by nailing their sins to the cross. This was the rationale he used for the infliction of physical abuse,” the report continued.

Among the conclusions, the investigation also showed “even basic safeguards which were common at the time for those in ministry or teaching roles, such as the use of interviews or references, were not utilised in relation to Smyth".

Winchester College has apologised “unreservedly” for its failings and added that its current safeguarding processes have been "successfully inspected".

You can read the full report here

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