iwerne trust
Church of England

Iwerne Trust abuse: leading public school gives victims immediate help, while the Church of England leaves them hanging

There are many stories of abuse within the Church of England, and for years they have remained hidden, either undisclosed or covered up. It is hard to think of there being an upside to the plethora of revelations that are gradually coming out, but there is one: when we truly understand the scale of the problem and the details of what went wrong, we will have a sporting chance of securing the future – not a certainty, perhaps, but at least chance that we might.

Currently, the approach of the church hierarchy, the House of Bishops and their closest advisors, appears to be to batten down the hatches, figure it all out for themselves and then bring the answers down from the mountain top to present to and thereby enlighten the General Synod, which will gratefully thank them for all their hard work and adopt the solution with a handful of amendments from the troublemakers.

Meanwhile, we of the other houses (Clergy and Laity) may not be forging a Golden Calf – but some of us will not be surprised to see a copper-plated pig’s ear making an appearance.

You cannot construct the solution without listening closely to the victims themselves, which is what this blog is currently engaged in facilitating. Before we hear today’s story however, it would be useful to go back and read ‘Dave’s story’, because some themes are beginning to emerge.

We also need to learn a little about the Iwerne Trust.

In the 1940s, camps for boys (just boys) were established with the express intention of creating a cadre of high quality leaders for the Church of England. One of these organisations became the Iwerne Trust. Superficially the project succeeded, delivering not only an archbishop but also a phalanx of leaders for the Evangelical wing of the church who went on to establish many of the country’s largest fellowships: some were leading ab initio, some became leading under their resolute leadership – which is precisely what Iwerne intended.

There was, however, a terrible human cost, as the Church Times described earlier this year:

…he and other boys had been beaten so badly by Mr Smyth that they had to wear nappies to staunch the bleeding.

One said that he grew so fearful of the beatings that he tried to take his own life in 1981. This prompted the Iwerne Trust to launch an investigation, and compile a confidential report in 1982. It described what it called the “beatings” of 22 young men.

The scale and severity of the practice was horrific. . . eight received about 14,000 strokes: 2 of them having some 8000 strokes over three years.

My latest story come from ‘Graham’ (identity protected). He was a textbook candidate for development by this method of discipline, fitting Iwerne’s ideological profile perfectly. Like all Iwerne victims, he was smart and from a very well-heeled background. Graham explains that the Trust divided its youngsters at the outset into sheep and goats. The sheep were those drawn from the handful of the very best and most exclusive public schools. The minor public school pupils were the goats, syphoned off and ‘developed’ separately. They were the lucky ones. The Chairman of the Iwerne Trust, John Smyth QC, did not soil his hands on hoi poloi.

Graham develops the point:

“There was a split with Scripture Union in the late 1980s as they wanted the camps to be more inclusive. They were told non-public school boys would not fit in and would find it uncomfortable! It was like a Boy Scouts feudal set up: the Adjutant ran the camps, with Officers, Senior Campers, then the boys. Becoming an Officer was strictly vetted, and what you aspired to.

“Iwerne preached that you were better (but do not tell others, you are part of a club that they are not part of), etc., etc.”

This flags up why the Church of England would be extremely foolish to attempt to side-line, patronise or ignore this group of victims. They were hand-picked to be la crème de la intellectual crème of the church – well educated, successful, motivated, organised and resourced.

If the church attempts to be evasive or overly patrician in its response, it may have met its match, for these are the guys with a grievance, not a guilty past. They have the stories, a substantial archive of evidence, and financial muscle. The do not want the Church of England’s money: they want justice for themselves and all other victims.

Iwerne was an independent trust, but Graham refutes the notion that this exonerates the Established Church:

“I accept that the camps were not run by the CofE, were not under the control or oversight of the CofE as an organisation itself. However, it is true to say it was a Christian camp, under the umbrella of the Church of England, staffed by CofE clergy, visited by CofE Bishops, endorsed by CofE referees. It produced CofE bishops (and an archbishop).

“The camp literature was endorsed by ++Michael Ramsey and +David Sheppard.

“Parents, those involved, would have been EXTREMELY surprised if at any stage they were told it was not CofE… the endorsement of all these vicars legitimised Iwerne.”

Graham directed me to an article in the Daily Telegraph, which shockingly explains that, once uncovered, John Smyth QC (famously the barrister of choice of morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse) was spirited out of the country to Africa in a manner reminiscent of Lord Lucan, where he not only continued his activities but was financially supported by an Iwerne benefactor for many years after the facts of his chronically abusive behaviour became known.

The Church Times article carries a statement on behalf of the Church of England that, upon learning of the problem, it provided support for the victims of John Smyth. That is significantly challenged by Graham. He says the church did nothing meaningful to help in 2013: he was offered £100 to pay for counselling. It was too little too late, but his story offers the church a clue for how victims can and should be treated.

To preserve Graham’s anonymity I have to redact details: he has already been accidentally ‘outed’, and so an ethical assurance of redaction was a condition of letting me tell his story.

Graham first sought help from a friend, priest, and fellow Iwerne victim. Schooled in the Iwerne way of doing things, Graham expected “an Iwerne response – some shrink pulled from ex-Iwerne ranks who would calm me down, keep a lid on it and then I would go back to my quiet life.”

In fact, the priest made no initial attempt to engage with the church’s safeguarding team, preferring to freelance the solution for 18 months without success. Only then did he – without Graham’s knowledge or consent – approach Diocese A.

Given the choice between following church procedures and the ‘Iwerne culture’, his default position had been towards the latter.

The Diocese seemed to have no procedure for dealing with a victim like Graham, and after extensive consultation around a number of dioceses, it also failed to find help for six months. It was 23 months after Graham first approached the CofE before he first spoke to a counsellor proposed by the Diocese.

At this point, having a (legal) background in such matters, I asked an obvious question: “Who determined what was the proper response to your problem?” In short, did he need counselling, psychiatric intervention, or psychology? Every victim may have complex individual needs; they might conceivably have multiple problems requiring different and properly sequenced interventions. This is no time for amateur hour.

Graham responded: “No assessment was ever undertaken by the CofE, it was never mentioned.”

He continued:

“In February I had a breakdown and ended up at the XXXXXX Clinic. I am now under the care of a psychologist there. This is being paid for by major public school XXXXXX. They responded almost instantaneously with: ‘…we will ask no questions, do not even need to know your identity (the Bursar does), and will pay for whatever you need from the best you can find.’ And they have. While major public school XXXXXX has a lot to answer for what occurred during 1978-82, in 2017 their response has been exemplary.

“Part of my anger at Lambeth Palace is that once they knew of the abuse in 2013, they did nothing. I screamed at the TV when Justin Welby talked of the earnest inquiry into what had happened. Well, I was the only witness (at that stage) and I never met, and was never interviewed by Diocese A, Lambeth Palace or the police.”

I found that accusation deeply concerning. I wondered how that could possibly be reconciled with Archbishop Justin’s statement, if it can be at all. After careful thought, however, it seems to me that prima facie the two accounts are reconcilable, though not in any way the church can take pride.

When one of our priests was first told, he went off on a frolic of his own, based upon a neglect of church procedures and an over confidence in his own abilities. The culture of Iwerne contributed to that over confidence. When Diocese A was approached, it devised an inadequate and much delayed plan based upon a one-size-fits-all model that ‘counselling’ would do the trick. It was the wrong answer, and failed because no adequate initial assessment was undertaken. When it broke down there was no continuity of pastoral care: the church had ‘offered help’, but when Graham became somebody else’s problem, the box was ticked and thus, when asked, the National Safeguarding Team could be told and report to the Archbishop that the church had responded to Graham. Just not competently, or with continuity. No wonder Graham found Archbishop Justin’s statement hollow, however sincerely delivered.

The Church of England was actually engaging in what the French playwright Alfred Jarry called ‘the science of imaginary solutions’.

What is striking here is the similarity with ‘Dave’s’ experience. As soon as Dave first discloses, the church is ill-prepared and has to cast around for resources. There is no budget available. There is also chronic delay. Nobody appears to realise that victims may have functioned after a fashion for years, but once they turn and ask for help they are entering an acute stage of crisis.

Superficially, the inexpert might think ‘well, the abuse happened a long time ago – they can hang on a bit longer’. The truth is that at the point when the victim realises he needs help, he is entering a downward spiral where the complex maelstrom of thoughts and emotions kick in. There may be flashbacks, anger, difficulties within current relationships, guilt at having been so gullible – and much more. This is the point at which suicide attempts may happen. This is when urgency and competence are needed, and where the church remains chronically unprepared. It seems to have attempted to figure it out on a case by case, diocese by diocese basis. It needs to be more like the emergency room in a hospital, where a variety of skills and specialisms leap into co-operative action from the outset, everybody well prepared and confident in their role. These are life and death moments.

Dave told me that in a single recent month, three victims of clergy abuse known to him had committed suicide.

Graham was lucky. He went to a public school where there was money and strong leadership, and they kicked into action as soon as he approached them. Here’s a shocking truth: the well-connected get taken care of.

If, however, like Dave, you went to Bash Street Comprehensive, you continue to wait with no money, no counselling, and no hope of any help anytime soon. This from a church that continues to lecture government on how it fails the poor.

If the Established Church would like to offer Dave the kind of help that Graham received from the private sector, they only have to contact me. They have my email address. I’d be happy to put them directly in touch with Dave, so they might learn from the “exemplary” response of the public school.