Thinking Anglicans

Safeguarding: more unfinished business (Smyth)

Updated Sunday

Not all unfinished safeguarding business in the Church of England relates to the fiasco surrounding the ISB.

Another major item yet to be reported on is the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth, which has been known about since the 1980s. The formal investigation only got underway in 2019. The Church Times has just published a very detailed and thorough history of the delays in completing this review, which still appears to be many months away from publication. The management of this review lies in the hands of the National Safeguarding Team.

Madeleine Davies writes: Smyth survivors still waiting, five years after being promised church review

IT IS five years this week since the “lessons-learned” review of the abuse perpetrated by John Smyth was promised, and ten years since the Archbishop of Canterbury was formally told about the abuse…

As she reports, Andrew Graystone says:

“The Church decided that the task of reviewing a case lasting over 40 years with more than a hundred victims could be handled by one part-time reviewer contracted for just two days a week, with a part-time assistant. The Church either didn’t recognise the scale of the review it was launching, or simply didn’t care.”

The lack of an independent accountability body to monitor the progress and scope of the review, and to ask Mr Makin “awkward questions”, was also a problem, he said. Conducting reviews was a “lucrative process”, he said, pointing to a leak by the NST in 2019 which revealed that Mr Makin’s rate was £650 per day.

Update on Mr X

Another item where action by the NST remains outstanding is reported today in the Sunday Times by Katie Gatens: I was abused as a choirboy. Decades later the Church of England betrayed me again. (behind a paywall, but see this comment on Twitter)

This is the same “Mr X” case on which the now defunct ISB produced a report, back in May: ISB reports on how Church failed in responding to an abuse survivor.

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Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

One of the most alarming things about Smyth’s abuse was that some of it occurred after he had been appointed a Recorder of the Crown Court in 1979 and thus while he was potentially sitting in judgement of others in criminal trials. I have never seen this crucial point made anywhere (I haven’t read Andrew Graystone’s book). It’s obvious that Smyth’s already privileged status at this early date as both a QC and criminal judge made it far less likely to attract suspicion.

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

Rowland When one thinks about it, sitting as a Judge of a kind,then also getting up in a pulpit as a licensed Reader and preaching, and link this to his conduct, what we have before us was appalling public hypocrisy. I do hope it will not be too long before Mr Makin is able to make his report public, for his judgements of all the events involved with Mr Smyth will be very interesting. Can justice ever be done to his Victims even with Mr Makin’s final report is an open question as it will be etched on their memories… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
10 months ago

There is a question mark about Smyth’s Readership. It appeared in the Winchester Diocesan Year Book which must be strong evidence, but some years ago a TA contributor reported that no official record of it could be found, presumably in the Diocesan Registry. It remains to be seen whether Mr Makin will deal with this point. We do know that Smyth was rejected for ordination. The late John Vernon Taylor was the Bishop of Winchester 1974-1985 which, I believe, encompasses both the term of the Readership and the rejection for ordination.

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

If I recall correctly, the entry in the Winchester diocesan yearbook was found after the TA contributor questioned whether Smyth had been a lay reader. Smyth survivors also recall that Smyth was a reader. The definitive work on Smyth is Andrew Graystone’s Bleeding for Jesus.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Janet Fife
10 months ago

Not having read the book, I am obviously not going to challenge that it is the definitive one, but (as reported here on TA) it contained some rather inaccurate information about Smyth’s Recordership and how he would have dressed and been addressed in court – peripheral material, I realise, for the majority of readers, but nevertheless still inaccurate. Jonathan, understandably, concentrates on the incongruity of Smyth as an abuser preaching from the pulpit whereas, perhaps from a different perspective, I find his being a judge of others (with the power of sending them to prison) just as startling and I… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

I can’t comment on the accuracy or otherwise of Bleeding for Jesus as regards Smyth as Recorder, but Andrew Graystone does give a pretty fair picture of the man’s complexity, as well as the scope of his crimes both here and in Africa. If you are interested in the Smyth case it would be well worth your while to read it. We have seen again and again that status – social, class-related, spiritual, or hierarchical – has enabled abusers to escape detection and justice. Peter Ball and Chris Brain are the other most famous examples, but there are so many… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Janet Fife
10 months ago

My personal experience of Smyth dates back to around 1970, possibly slightly earlier, when involved in a case on opposite sides in the Winchester County Court. That was, of course, before he was a QC and Recorder. I believe I have followed every development of this saga, and my comments about it on TA have probably run into hundreds. I have had exchanges with you, even on such minutiae as Smyth’s garden in Morestead, literally next door to the church where I was deputy organist for two decades after Smyth left for Africa. I knew the vicar and organist (a… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

Rowland, I wouldn’t presume to tell you that you ‘must’ read anything. I said it would be ‘well worth your while’ to read Bleeding for Jesus, because on a number of occasions you have said that this or that point hasn’t been addressed, when Andrew Graystone has addressed it. He also covers aspects of the story that Mr. Makin won’t deal with, such as Smyth’s career in Africa. As my family and I have been in the book business for 100 years, it comes naturally to me to recommend books. No one should take my recommendation as an order, and… Read more »

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

You really need to read the Andrew Graystone book: I know the story well but there were aspects he covers which I found instructive.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Martin Sewell
10 months ago

Thank you, also Janet. I’m just short of 82 years and have not read my two latest book purchases, one of them recommended by a TA contributor. Time and health are both very much of the essence. I often discussed Smyth with Stanley Monkhouse. Sad to think that our last exchange was on this subject and very recent. I have often said that Smyth was an enigma, a double-act even. It should be compulsory viewing for all Smyth ‘historians’ to watch the YouTube video of him on South African national television in 2014 (that in itself being highly relevant in… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

Well I saw the clip some time ago, thanks to you. I thought it an interesting instance of the ‘cultural cringe’, but was mystified why the editors of the channel thought it appropriate to get a long retired foreign silk to comment on a South African case when there so many capable and erudite criminal lawyers, including SCs, in that country. The flow of English lawyers to South Africa had come to a virtual halt even before WW2, and since the war the traffic has been in the opposite direction, if one thinks of such luminaries as Johan Steyn, Lennie… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

Allegedly, and I choose my words carefully, a complaint was sent to South Africa in 2013 warning of the possible dangers of Smyth. Here he is, one year later, feted on national television. The S Africans by then must have known everything that had happened in Zimbabwe. A very relevant scenario and chronology in the total picture – not just for the C of E ‘angle’.

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

Second reply:  From as early as 2002, Smyth had appeared in important cases in the superior courts of South Africa and, on occasions, as amicus curiae to the Constitutional Court. He wasn’t an ‘unknown’. The other SA judicial luminaries you mention, as you say, had come to the UK so the ones still living would not be in the running for local commentary on the Pistorius trial. As late as 2015, the year after the television appearance, Smyth made a submission to the SA Parliamentary Portfolio Commission on Justice and Correctional Services including, a rather startling (in the context of everything) statement… Read more »

Froghole
Froghole
Reply to  Rowland Wateridge
10 months ago

An excellent point. I should add that there was a time when the British state was capable of issuing reports expeditiously and comparatively cheaply: that was before the egregious, malignant and utterly unlamented ‘Bouncing Czech’, ever eager to engage in self-defensive and opportunistic lawfare, ruined the process in 1974 (he also trashed the British private pensions system, and his suicide must rate as one of the most consequential – if not the most consequential – in British history). Of course, there were occasions when expeditious reports facilitated whitewashes – notoriously that of the senile and submissive Widgery in 1972. However,… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

Gosh! I didn’t expect to see Lord Widgery mentioned. I think I might have held a record for the shortest judgment in that same decade when Widgery CJ (as Lord Chief Justice sitting in the Divisional Court on appeal from lay magistrates’ refusal to state a case) pronounced “We have read Wateridge’s affidavit. There is no merit in this appeal which is accordingly dismissed”. Of course, my view is biased, but at the time I thought this decision was wrong, and so did the defendant, a ‘respectable’ large international company. Apologies to other TA readers for this anecdote. I make… Read more »

Graham
Graham
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

Maxwellisation has not yet started.

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
Reply to  Froghole
10 months ago

It’s a non-statutory enquiry and under no obligation to consult with those criticised. If they choose to Maxwellise it, that is their choice. Of course, as a non-statutory enquiry it also has no protection against defamation actions. It’s just a document written by some people about some other people, with the same legal standing as a book about the unfortunate fate of an Arctic convoy. In this case Maxwellisation would have no effect: that you showed someone an article prior to publication is no defence against a defamation action, even if they said it was OK — it is for… Read more »

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Interested Observer
10 months ago

Interesting that you chose to use PQ17 as an illustration for your point. My late father was a gunner on the said ‘unfortunate arctic convoy’, and came back, or I wouldn’t be writing this. It was one of the influences on my life which made me a pacifist.

Wasn’t Mr Smyth also something to do with the National Viewers & Listeners Association and connected with the ‘Romans in Britain case’? Or am I confusing him with someone else?

Interested Observer
Interested Observer
Reply to  John Davies
10 months ago

Wikipedia says:

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 Newsand 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 Theatreproduction of Howard Brenton‘s play The Romans in Britain in 1980 but withdrew from the case through illness.

It is hardly a major insight to observe that the louder people trumpet “morality”, the more likely are their personal lives to be a cesspit. As in this case.

Kate
Kate
10 months ago

If this is run by the NST, how can the initial assessment of the likely work involved have gone so wrong?

Graham
Graham
Reply to  Kate
10 months ago

Incompetence……..

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Kate
10 months ago

My Question 74 at General Synod in February 2023 may be relevant here 74. The Revd Canon Mark Bennet (Oxford) asked the Chair of the House of Bishops: A number of safeguarding reports commissioned by the CofE remain delayed and outstanding. Can the Bishop provide a comprehensive list of these, with the dates they were originally due and the best projected dates of delivery, based upon current information? The Bishop of Rochester (The Rt Revd Dr Jonathan Gibbs) replied on behalf of the Chair of the House of Bishops: There are two ongoing independent learning lesson reviews commissioned by the NST. Makin… Read more »

Janet Fife
Janet Fife
Reply to  Mark Bennet
10 months ago

‘no one envisaged quite how complex and enormous’ the Smyth enquiry was going to be? A number of people did envisage just that, and said from the beginning that the resources allocated were insufficient. They weren’t listened to. The C of E has a deeply ingrained habit of refusing to listen to those – mainly survivors and their supporters – who have knowledge of safeguarding cases and wisdom regarding what needs to be done. This refusal operates to the Church’s own detriment, as we are seeing.

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  Janet Fife
10 months ago

‘And something more like a project management approach’…. Is this so everyone can put their 5 eggs in? I thought investigations were supposed to be becoming more independent- or is that just a nasty rumour ?

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Janet Fife
10 months ago

Janet is 100% correct: the Church has an arrogance in these matters and does not listen to those who plainly know better. I have seen the correspondence raising serious concerns about the inadequacy of the resourcing from the earliest days.

Graham
Graham
Reply to  Mark Bennet
10 months ago

Mark, the answer of Gibbs was full of deceit. I was the victim that came forward in 2012, and the prime mover in pushing Peter Hancock for a Review. It was quite clear to myself, and multiple others, the scope and complexity of the abuse by John Smyth. it is simply farcical, and fundamentally untrue, to suggest that “no-one envisaged quite how complex and how enormous this was going to be“. In fact a number of victims threatened to pull out of the Review in November 2019 as it had started with such staggering incompetence and under resourcing. I will… Read more »

Helen King
Helen King
Reply to  Mark Bennet
10 months ago

The Bishop of Rochester: “Those are the kinds of lessons I think we need to learn.” But how is the church going to learn any ‘lessons’ when there appears to be no attempt to combine the very many ‘lessons learnt’ lists to find common ground, let alone to decide who should be responsible for taking action on them?

Graham
Graham
Reply to  Helen King
10 months ago

So, how is that being applied to the Soul Survivor investigation ? And the promised Christ Church Review ? Has there been a proper attempt at scoping the scale and complexity of these cases ?

And any suggestion the CofE learns lessons is farcical. There is a quagmire filled with past reviews, sinking without trace

Mark Bennet
Mark Bennet
Reply to  Graham
10 months ago

The Christ Church situation may be complex, but it is very different from the others in that the number of complainants is relatively small. It would be interesting to know how the learning from reflection on commissioning past reviews has been communicated to the people commissioning the Soul Survivor review, and what has been done to make sure that those people properly take into account what has been learned. Maybe someone will ask at St Albans Diocesan Synod for an outline of the project management approach being taken to the review, and what has been done to scope the resources… Read more »

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
10 months ago

I recently wrote to our Diocesan Safeguarding Officer that Alexis Jay’s work must be the last roll of the dice for C of E safeguarding – if the C of E ignores her and continues to do its own shambolic thing, it will deserve to have responsibility for these matters removed from it. This particular protracted process must surely demonstrate how unfit for purpose the current system is.

Susanna (no ‘h’)
Susanna (no ‘h’)
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
10 months ago

The previous comments all start from the basic assumption that an enquiry is meant to gather information which should then allow the defined problem to be sorted out.
I am wondering whether or not within the realms of CofE safeguarding (and possibly some echelons of government?) they are the preferred method of kicking the can down the road… and therefore whether Mr Makin’s enquiry is in fact performing perfectly to plan? And then of course the NST has made an excellent call

John Davies
John Davies
Reply to  Susanna (no ‘h’)
10 months ago

Evening, Susanna.

One of my many hats in my civil service career was as court clerk for the local Traffic Commissioner, holding Public Inquiries into, amongst other things, the fitness of commercial vehicle operators and drivers to either have, or continue to have a licence. And your ‘basic assumption’ is absolutely correct – that is what we were there to do. What happens in ‘Churchland’, where words don’t always mean the same as they do in the wider world is not necessarily the same thing!

Fr Dean
Fr Dean
10 months ago

Is the Makin review being delayed until after Archbishop Welby’s retirement peut-etre?

peterpi - Peter Gross
peterpi - Peter Gross
Reply to  Fr Dean
10 months ago

Since CofE officials have decided that a part-time (at £650 per day!) contractor working 2 days a week will suffice to review a complex case spanning decades and with a over a hundred victims, maybe the powers-that-be hope the oceans rise and flood England first or the Sun goes nova.

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Fr Dean
10 months ago

Could be, indeed! But a post in an earlier thread (after the Synod debacle, I think) suggested that ++Welby would delay his retirement until after the Makin report was published, so that he could influence, and presumably minimise, the impact of the report on himself and many of his friends.

God 'elp us all
God 'elp us all
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
10 months ago

IIRC such delayed retirement will need the approval,of the sovereign- I don’t know the process. Perhaps the previous Archbishop of York may be able to ‘advise’- John Sentamu had his period of office extended beyond the ‘mandatory’ CofE retirement age of 70- I don’t know why. The date at which this most venerable age is reached is known for years!

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
10 months ago

I don’t recall seeing that suggestion, but if it is true that ++Welby is thinking of staying on in order to ‘manage’ the response to the Makin report, would that not be proof that the C of E has learned nothing (despite all those lessons learned reviews) about conflicts of interest?

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
10 months ago

It would indeed, but it doesn’t follow that it won’t happen!

Fr Dexter Bracey
Fr Dexter Bracey
10 months ago

Looking at on-going business, I wonder if anyone knows how one might submit a contribution to Professor Jay as part of her consultation process. The C of E website gives an e-mail address (contact@futureofchurchsafeguarding.org.uk) without inviting contributions to it or even revealing whom one might be contacting if one were to write to it. Such an object lesson in openness and transparency…

Martin Sewell
Martin Sewell
Reply to  Fr Dexter Bracey
10 months ago

That is the correct email; I encourage you to write and introduce yourself perhaps outlining your thoughts before submitting substantial evidence. In that way the inquiry can begin to sort out the wood from the trees. It might legitimately want to hear survivors , synod members and constitutional observations in groups to get the best overview of issues.

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
10 months ago

I was shocked by the Sunday Times article. Not surprised by the contents, as the whole story will be familiar to assiduous readers of TA, but shocked that the whole sorry tale has received such prominence in a newspaper with a large circulation, widely read by people of influence. It is not a piece of sensationalist tabloid journalism, but the story has been soberly reported and the church has been given ample opportunity to respond. But the AC has offered only the usual meaningless platitudes and unachieved aspirations. I can see no redeeming features for the CofE in it, and… Read more »

Jonathan Jamal
Jonathan Jamal
Reply to  Malcolm Dixon
10 months ago

Malcolm in regard to the Archbishop of Canterbury, looking at him on Wikipedia I see he was born on 6th January 1956, which makes him now 67+ with Bishops being required in the Church of England at 70, he could plan to retire on his 7oth birthday in 2026 or go on till the 31st January 2026, when he could draw the full Episcopal Stipend for that month. personally I do not think he should be drifting on any longer in Office, he needs to bring his Retirement forward and retire as soon as possible. The Church of England now… Read more »

Rowland Wateridge
Rowland Wateridge
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
10 months ago

The legal position is that HM The King may extend the retirement age of the Archbishop of Canterbury (and equally the Archbishop of York) by one year, i.e., to 71, solely at the King’s discretion, but there is no provision for a further extension: section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Offices (Age Limit) Measure 1975.

Malcolm Dixon
Malcolm Dixon
Reply to  Jonathan Jamal
10 months ago

Thank you Jonathan. I agree with you that the ABC should retire as soon as possible. I have no desire to see him prolong his tenure even to 70, let alone beyond it. I only mentioned the possibility Because it had been raised in another thread. He could have left ‘on a high’, albeit a pretty low one, after the Lambeth Conference, when he had been given a standing ovation at one point, and before the GAFCON primates later disowned him as ‘primus inter pares’ because of his position on same sex marriage. Unfortunately the election of his successor will… Read more »

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