John Smyth (barrister)

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John Smyth

John Jackson Smyth

(1941-06-27)27 June 1941
Died11 August 2018(2018-08-11) (aged 77)
Cape Town, South Africa
Alma materTrinity Hall, Cambridge
Known forAbusive behaviour
Spouse(s)Josephine Anne Leggott

John Jackson Smyth, QC (27 June 1941 – 11 August 2018) was a British barrister and recorder, who was also involved in Christian ministry. In early 2017, reports emerged that he had performed sadistic beatings on schoolboys and young men who regarded him as a spiritual father.[1] Anglican Bishop Andrew Watson disclosed that, as a young man, he was a victim.[2] Smyth died whilst under investigation, so criminal charges were never brought against him, but an independent review concluded that he abused at least 13 people, and the abuse was also emotional and spiritual, as well as physical.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Smyth was born in Canada on 27 June 1941. He attended Strathcona School, Calgary. His family subsequently moved to England, where he was educated at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and Trinity College, Bristol.[4] During the 1970s and early 1980s, he lived in Winchester whilst practising law in London. He moved to Zimbabwe in 1984, and later to South Africa. Smyth died on 11 August 2018 at his home in Cape Town. Per a statement from his family: "The official cause of death has not yet been made known, but the indicators are that it was a sudden heart attack following a heart procedure earlier in the week."[5]

Legal career[edit]

He was called to the Bar at Inner Temple in 1965 and took silk in 1979. He was a recorder (with the powers of a circuit judge able to sit in the Crown Court, the County Court or the Family Court) from 1978 to 1984.

In July 1977, Smyth acted for Christian morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse in her successful private prosecution for blasphemy (Whitehouse v Lemon) at the Old Bailey against the newspaper Gay News and its editor, Denis Lemon, over the publication of James Kirkup's poem The Love that Dares to Speak its Name.[6] He also initially acted for Whitehouse in her failed prosecution of the National Theatre production of Howard Brenton's play The Romans in Britain in 1980 but withdrew from the case through illness.[1]

Later, whilst living in Cape Town, South Africa, he ran the Justice Alliance of South Africa (JASA) for some years. JASA describes itself as "a coalition of corporations‚ individuals and churches committed to upholding and fighting for justice and the highest moral standards in South African society".[7]

Smyth represented South Africa's Doctors for Life,[8] and, as an amicus curiae of the Constitutional Court in May 2005, unsuccessfully opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage in South Africa.[9] Smyth claimed that to introduce same-sex marriage, would result in "violence to the mind and spirit" of the religiously devout and would discriminate against them.[10]

It emerged on 3 February 2017 that the board of the Alliance had asked Smyth to immediately stand down as the head of the organisation. His standing-down was described as temporary, but his return was not thought likely.[11]

Christian work[edit]

Smyth was chairman of the Iwerne Trust between 1974 and 1981. This organisation raised funds for evangelical Christian holiday camps that had been founded by Eric "Bash" Nash for public school pupils, at the time run by Scripture Union,[12] and in which Smyth was a leader.[13][14]

Smyth moved to Zimbabwe in 1984, where in 1986 he set up mission Zambesi Ministries, which held summer camps for boys from the country's leading schools. He was arrested in 1997 in the investigation into the drowning of Guide Nyachuru, a 16-year-old adolescent, at the Marondera camp. Nyachuru's unclothed body was found at Ruzawi School pool in December 1992. Smyth always said that his death was an accident.[9] The possibility of culpable homicide was after a long investigation ruled as unlikely, but raised doubts about his behaviour towards boys in his care.[9][15] He subsequently moved to South Africa.

Abuse allegations[edit]

Early reports[edit]

An internal report from the Iwerne Trust in 1982, compiled by Mark Ruston of the Round Church Cambridge and David Fletcher of the Scripture Union, referred to "horrific" beatings of teenage boys, who sometimes suffered bleeding.[16][17] Winchester College, with its pupils among alleged victims, was informed about the alleged beatings but both the college and the trust failed to inform the police about Smyth. The headmaster asked Smyth to keep away from the college and not to contact its pupils.[18]

There were two early publications which mentioned Smyth's abusive behaviour without naming him.

In February 1989, John Thorn, the headmaster of Winchester College during the years that Smyth was active, released his autobiography, which included the following:[19]

I was told the extraordinary news that the neighbouring barrister had gained such personal control over a few of the senior boys in the group, and had kept it after they left the school, that he was claiming to direct their burgeoning relationships with girls, and was, with their consent, punishing them physically when they confessed to him they had sinned.

— John Thorn's Road To Winchester, p.154-155

On 3 February 2017, two days after Smyth was publicly named as an abuser, Atkins revealed via an article in The Daily Telegraph that she had referred to him in her 2012 article.[20] The independent review commissioned by Winchester College and published in January 2022 included the above passage from Thorn's autobiography and indicated that it was a reference to Smyth.[3]

Public exposure[edit]

Smyth was first publicly named as an abuser by an article in The Daily Telegraph published on 1 February 2017.[21] The article indicated that Channel 4 News would be broadcasting a report on Smyth's violent physical abuse of young men. The report aired the next day and showed Smyth being doorstepped by reporter Cathy Newman, while on a Christmas and New Year visit to friends in Bristol, England.[22] Smyth commented that he was "not talking about what we did at all" and said some of the claims were "nonsense".[23]

Shortly after the report the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson disclosed that he was one of Smyth's victims.[2][24]

I am one of the survivors of John Smyth's appalling activities... the beating I endured in the infamous garden shed was violent, excruciating and shocking

— Andrew Watson, Bishop of Guildford

After the abuse became public, Graham Tilby, national safeguarding adviser for the Church of England, said: "Clearly, more could have been done at the time to look further into the case."[18] Smyth was excommunicated from the Church-on-Main in Cape Town after church leaders said he refused to return to the UK and engage with police.[25]

On 10 April 2017, BBC News At Ten reported that Simon Doggart was a victim of Smyth, but he had been recruited to administer further beatings.[26][27][28]

In June 2020, the Church of England removed final diocesan permission to officiate from George Carey, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, having found of him procedural failings, either in his reviewing or not having reviewed by other bodies some of the old allegations against Smyth.[29] Permission was restored to Carey by the Bishop of Oxford seven months later.[30]

A book documenting Smyth's abuse was published in September 2021. Bleeding For Jesus: John Smyth and the cult of the Iwerne Camps was written by Andrew Graystone, a journalist and theologian who had been involved in the exposure of Smyth.[31]

In January 2022, Winchester College apologised for abuse perpetrated by Smyth, following the release of an independent review that the College had commissioned.[3][32]

The reviewers have not encountered any evidence, whether oral or documentary, which suggests that John Smyth did not commit the acts described within this report. ...

In total, the reviewers are aware of 13 former pupils of Winchester College who were abused by Smyth. Not all of the abuse involved assault or physical beatings. Some of the victims were subjected to severe emotional and spiritual abuse and inappropriate sexualised behaviour. ...

The reviewers have concluded that if Smyth had been prosecuted for the offence of assault or assault occasioning actual bodily harm in the 1980s or later on the basis of the evidence shared with the reviewers, there would have been a reasonable prospect of conviction.

— Review into the abuse by John Smyth of pupils and former pupils of Winchester College


  1. ^ a b Laville, Sandra (2 February 2017). "John Smyth: the go-to barrister for Mary Whitehouse". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  2. ^ a b "Statement from Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson". Church of England. 6 February 2017. Archived from the original on 8 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Review Of Abuse In The 1970s And 1980s By John Smyth QC Of Pupils From Winchester College". Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  4. ^ ‘SMYTH, John Jackson’, Who's Who 2017, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2017
  5. ^ BBC radio news report, 12 August 2018
  6. ^ Humphreys, Brett (2002). "The Law that Dared to Lay the Blame..." Gay and Lesbian Humanist. Archived from the original on 5 March 2007. Retrieved 20 January 2007.
  7. ^ Chambers, Dave (2 February 2017). "Top SA legal campaigner abused boys for decades in UK' says documentary". Times Live. Johannesburg. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  8. ^ "JASA Executive Board". Archived from the original on 11 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Tolsi, Niren (2 February 2017). "Christian crusader in teen abuse scandal". Mail & Guardian. Johannesburg. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  10. ^ Evans, Jenni (18 May 2005). "Homosexuality against the Bible, court hears". IOL/Independent Online. South Africa. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  11. ^ Chambers, Dave (3 February 2017). "Justice Alliance head gets the boot after child abuse allegations". Times Live. Johannesburg. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  12. ^ "Scripture Union criticised for silence about John Smyth". Church Times. 26 March 2021. Retrieved 20 May 2021.
  13. ^ Foster, Patrick; Harley, Nicola; Willgress, Lydia (2 February 2017). "Archbishop of Canterbury issues 'unreserved and unequivocal' apology after links to 'child abuser' emerge". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  14. ^ "Archbishop of Canterbury sorry over charity abuse claims". BBC News. 2 February 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  15. ^ Foster, Patrick; Harley, Nicola; Thornycroft, Peta (2 February 2017). "Archbishop of Canterbury's 'delightful' friend accused of killing teenager in Zimbabwe". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  16. ^ Ruston, Mark (1982). "Ruston Report" (PDF).{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. ^ Davies, Madeleine (21 August 2021). "Titus Trust: 'This is what we knew of John Smyth's abuse, and when we knew it'". Church Times. Retrieved 21 August 2021. The contents of the Ruston report were not news to another Titus Trust trustee, the Revd David Fletcher, who, as the Scripture Union employee responsible for running the Iwerne camps, had worked with Mr Ruston to compile the report before confronting Smyth in 1982.
  18. ^ a b correspondent, Harriet Sherwood Religion (12 August 2018). "Lawyer accused of beating boys at Christian camps dies" – via
  19. ^ Thorn, John (23 February 1989). John Thorn's Road To Winchester. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. pp. 154–155. ISBN 0-297-79201-6. OCLC 22489793.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  20. ^ "Anne Atkins: Inside the sexual apartheid of John Smyth's summer camps". The Telegraph. 3 February 2017. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  21. ^ Foster, Patrick; Willgress, Lydia; Harley, Nicola (1 February 2017). "'I could feel the blood spattering on my legs': Victims tell of 'horrific' beatings at hands of Archbishop's friend". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  22. ^ Newman, Cathy (2 February 2017). "How Channel 4 News revealed claims of savage abuse by Archbishop's friend". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  23. ^ Newman, Cathy (1 February 2017). "Archbishop admits Church 'failed terribly' over abuse revelations". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 February 2017.
  24. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (6 February 2017). "C of E bishop: I was subject of 'excruciating' beating by John Smyth". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2017.
  25. ^ Rudgard, Olivia (24 June 2017). "John Smyth excommunicated from South African church". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 August 2018.
  26. ^ BBC News at Ten : BBCNEWS : April 10, 2017 10:00pm-10:31pm BST, BBCNEWS, 10 April 2017, retrieved 22 January 2022{{citation}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  27. ^ Sabur, Rozina (11 April 2017). "Claims John Smyth recruited victim - now head of top prep school - to help him carry out beatings". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  28. ^ "New allegations tell of savagery of Smyth beatings". Retrieved 22 January 2022.
  29. ^ "George Carey: Former archbishop suspended over abuse inquiry". BBC News. 18 June 2020.
  30. ^ "George Carey: Ex-archbishop allowed to be minister again". Retrieved 5 May 2021.
  31. ^ "Bleeding For Jesus". Retrieved 21 January 2022.
  32. ^ "Winchester College sorry for 'horrific' summer camp abuse". 19 January 2022 – via

Further reading[edit]