Archbishop of Canterbury faces scrutiny as inquiry is launched into Christian camp beatings

Church of England announces review into handling of complaints about John Smyth, QC, who beat boys at holiday camps

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at the General Synod at Church House in London. Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images
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Britain’s Archbishop of Canterbury could be questioned as part of a review into abuse claims involving boys being beaten by a barrister at Christian camps.

The Church of England announced it was launching a review on Tuesday to examine its handling of claims that John Smyth, QC, carried out sadistic beatings on boys at the holiday camps.

Smyth, who died last year before he was due to be extradited to the UK, is accused of savagely beating boys, many of whom went to public schools, at Iwerne camps.

The assaults are claimed to have occurred for at least three years and came to light in 1982 when one young man, then a 21-year-old student at Cambridge, tried to kill himself after being ordered to submit to another beating.

“I know for survivors of John Smyth this review into the church’s response, and the response of others, is vital to them," said Peter Hancock, the church's bishop in charge of protection.

“It was their bravery in coming forward that finally brought the abuse perpetrated by Smyth to the attention of the police and wider church.”

Smyth was chairman of the Iwerne Trust between 1974 and 1981. The Most Rev Justin Welby was a close friend and worked with him at the camps in the 1970s.

Archbishop Welby issued an  “unreserved and unequivocal” apology two years ago and said that the church had “failed terribly” by not reporting  Smyth.

The archbishop said he was made aware of the allegations in 2013 when the police eventually became involved.

The Iwerne Trust commissioned a report into the allegations.

“The scale and severity of the practice was horrific,” it concluded.

The report was never published.

Smyth was not reported to the police and was allowed to leave the country after agreeing never to work with children again.

He then set up other children’s camps in Zimbabwe. Smyth was again accused of physically abusing boys at these camps.

In 1992 he was charged with killing a boy, 16, who was found dead in a swimming pool at one of the holiday camps. The case was later dismissed.

Smyth later moved to Cape Town in South Africa.