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
Spouse(s)Josephine Anne Leggott

John Jackson Smyth, QC (27 June 1941 – 11 August 2018) was a British barrister. He was alleged to have carried out "sadomasochistic physical abuse"[1] on young men in the 1970s and 1980s.


Educated at Strathcona School, Calgary; Trinity Hall, Cambridge; and Trinity College, Bristol;[2] he was called to the Bar at Inner Temple in 1965 and took silk in 1979. He was a recorder 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.[3] 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]

He was chairman of the Iwerne Trust between 1974 and 1981. The Iwerne Trust was a fund-raising body for evangelical Christian holiday camps that had been founded by Eric "Bash" Nash for public school pupils, at the time run by Scripture Union,[citation needed] and on which Smyth was a leader.[4][5]

Smyth moved to Zimbabwe in southern Africa in 1984, where in 1986 he set up the mission Zambesi Ministries, which held summer camps for boys from the country's leading schools. He was arrested in 1997 during an 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 has always said that his death was an accident, while the case of culpable homicide was eventually dismissed.[6][7] He then moved to Cape Town, South Africa, where 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".[8]

Smyth represented South Africa's Doctors for Life,[9] and, as an amicus curiae of the Constitutional Court in May 2005, unsuccessfully opposed the legalisation of same-sex marriage in South Africa.[6] 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]

Smyth died on 11 August 2018 at his home in Cape Town. According to a statement from his family passed to BBC News: "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."[12]

Abuse allegations[edit]

A secret report from the Iwerne Trust in 1982 referred to "horrific" beatings of teenage boys, who sometimes bled.[13] Winchester College, with pupils among alleged victims, was told 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.[14]

In early February 2017, Channel 4 News in the UK broadcast a report on Smyth's alleged violent physical abuse of young men. He was challenged by reporter Cathy Newman, while on a Christmas and New Year visit to friends in Bristol, England.[15] Smyth commented that he was "not talking about what we did at all" and said some of the claims were "nonsense".[16]

Shortly after the initial media reports, the Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson, released a statement accusing Smyth of giving him a "violent, excruciating and shocking" beating as a young man on a single occasion.[17][18]

After the allegation became better known in 2017, 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."[14] 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.[19]

In June 2020, the Church of England removed the permission to officiate from George Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, in its investigation of its handling of the Smyth affair. The Church stressed that Carey had not himself been accused of abuse.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Laville, Sandra (2 February 2017). "John Smyth: the go-to barrister for Mary Whitehouse". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ ‘SMYTH, John Jackson’, Who's Who 2017, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 2017
  3. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Archbishop of Canterbury sorry over charity abuse claims". BBC News. 2 February 2017. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b Tolsi, Niren (2 February 2017). "Christian crusader in teen abuse scandal". Mail & Guardian. Johannesburg. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ Chambers, Dave (2 February 2017). "Top SA legal campaigner abused boys for decades in UK‚ says documentary". Times Live. Johannesburg. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ "JASA Executive Board". Archived from the original on 11 October 2016.
  10. ^ Evans, Jenni (18 May 2005). "Homosexuality against the Bible, court hears". IOL/Independent Online. South Africa. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  11. ^ Chambers, Dave (3 February 2017). "Justice Alliance head gets the boot after child abuse allegations". Times Live. Johannesburg. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  12. ^ BBC radio news report, 12 August 2018
  13. ^ (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ a b correspondent, Harriet Sherwood Religion (August 12, 2018). "Lawyer accused of beating boys at Christian camps dies" – via
  15. ^ 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. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  16. ^ Newman, Cathy (1 February 2017). "Archbishop admits Church 'failed terribly' over abuse revelations". Channel 4 News. Retrieved 3 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  17. ^ "Statement from Bishop of Guildford, Andrew Watson". Church of England. 6 February 2017. Archived from the original on 8 Feb 2017.
  18. ^ Sherwood, Harriet (6 February 2017). "C of E bishop: I was subject of 'excruciating' beating by John Smyth". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 February 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  19. ^ Rudgard, Olivia (24 June 2017). "John Smyth excommunicated from South African church". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 August 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  20. ^ "George Carey: Former archbishop suspended over abuse inquiry". BBC News. 18 June 2020.