How I came to terms with the horrors of my boarding school abuse

Mark Stibbe, a former vicar who lives in North Yorkshire, is among those to claim to have been abused by youth worker John Smyth, who ran Christian holiday camps. As other victims waive their right to anonymity, here he tells his story in full.


C of E bishop: I was given ‘excruciating’ beating by John Smyth

A serving Church of England bishop has alleged that he was subjected to a “violent, excruciating and shocking” beating by John Smyth, the man at the centre of abuse allegations connected to summer camps for Christian youth.

Andrew Watson, the bishop of Guildford, claims he was beaten on a single occasion. He said he had contacted Hampshire police, the force investigating allegations made against Smyth, at the weekend.

Watson said in a statement: “I am one of the survivors of John Smyth’s appalling activities in the late 1970s and early 80s. I am also one of the bishops in the Church of England. This has placed me in a unique and challenging position when it comes to the events of the past few days.

“My own story is certainly less traumatic than that of some others. I was drawn into the Smyth circle, as they were, and the beating I endured in the infamous garden shed was violent, excruciating and shocking; but it was thankfully a one-off experience never to be repeated.”

A number of the beatings alleged to have been administered by Smyth are said to have taken place in the garden shed at his home in Winchester, Hampshire. Watson attended Winchester College, where Smyth is said to have met a number of his alleged victims.

Watson, 55, said a friend of his had attempted suicide on the eve of an alleged beating. “At that point I and a friend shared our story,” the bishop said, although he is not thought to have contacted police at the time.

The Guardian

BBC News

Like John Smyth’s accusers, I bear the scars of a muscular Christian education

The beatings described by victims of John Smyth, endured on Christian summer camps in the late 1970s, are entirely familiar to me. I’m sure the archbishop of Canterbury, as he has said, knew nothing of them when he helped out at those camps as a teenager. But those of us who were victims of similar beatings know this wasn’t simply the activity of a few rotten apples – though rotten apples there were. The problem was deep in the educational philosophy of the public school system, and the poisonous ideas it developed about the sort of men required to run the British empire.

Ted Robertson, the headmaster of my prep school, Hollingbury Court in Sussex, had a collection of canes in his study. Thick ones; thin, whippy ones; long and short. Different materials. For hours I would stand in a gloomy wood-panelled corridor, next to a creepy chapel, waiting for the beatings. This could be several times a week. Talking after lights out, talking at meal times, running in the corridor, wearing the wrong bit of uniform – these and other outrages were all punishable with a good thrashing. “Bend over, boy.” I would focus on a spot on the floor. The most important thing was not to wince. And I wasn’t going to give those bastards the satisfaction of seeing me cry.

Often we would go to bed with underpants drenched in blood. And in the dormitories, named after the headmaster’s military heroes – Drake, Trenchard, Marlborough, Churchill – we would whisper to each other about the sadism and compare the lines on our bums as wounds of pride and solidarity. I was beaten like this throughout the 1970s, with canes and bats and shoes and clothes brushes, from the age of seven all the way through to when I was 12. The pain doesn’t last so long. But a burning anger settles in your soul.

The Guardian

John Smyth allegations: why we need mandatory reporting of all child abuse

A prestigious public school was last night accused of covering up child abuse allegations against a senior Christian barrister later linked to the death of a teenager.

Morality campaigner John Smyth QC was accused by young victims of beating them so violently that they had to wear adult nappies to staunch the bleeding, after he recruited them at a Christian youth camp where the Archbishop of Canterbury once worked.

The alleged four-year campaign of ritualised violence in the late 1970s was reported to the trust which ran the camps for pupils from some of Britain’s leading public schools – but appears not to have been reported to police for more than three decades.

Winchester College said it banned Smyth, 75, from contact with its pupils in 1982 but did not go to police in order to spare his alleged victims from ‘further trauma’.

Meanwhile, Smyth moved to Zimbabwe, where he was alleged to have continued his violent abuse of children at more summer camps. He was also reportedly accused of culpable homicide over the death of a 16-year-old boy, Guide Nyachuru, who was found naked in a school pool, but the prosecution was dropped.

The married father of four – who once worked with campaigner Mary Whitehouse – has refused to respond to accusations he abused 22 boys and young men in Britain in attacks of escalating violence which drove one to attempt suicide.

Daily Mail

Inside the sexual apartheid of John Smyth’s summer camps

I looked up to John Smyth as a distantly alluring adult when I was a tiny child: handsome, brilliant, charismatic. He was a Beach Mission leader during our seaside holidays, and Christian role model for many – including my brother (who would probably still say he owes him much: there was good there too).

Thanks to John Smyth my brother became an officer on Iwerne Christian camps, and the summer before I went up to Oxford I was invited too.

In my teens I met many of my brother’s friends: Christian, good-looking, sporty, decent, public-school-and-Oxbridge-educated, many of them blues. Destined for ordained ministry; or as teachers; lawyers; businessmen. My parents couldn’t have wanted nicer friends for me. (Nor I, for my daughters.) These were extremely pleasant young men.


Within twenty four hours I felt a complete freak. Unknown to me, it was a world of extreme sexual apartheid. We were confined to the kitchen bashing spuds. The men, glorious in the sunshine and their cream cricket sweaters, played sports; gave talks in the meetings; swam and batted and even I believe flew aeroplanes.

I was discreetly steered away from volunteering for a helicopter trip advertised over breakfast; told off for stopping to chat to a young man I was introduced to destined for the same Oxford college; then for agreeing to play tennis with my brother (he was not); and finally for talking to some boys who lay down near us at the swimming pool. It was the last straw: it was politely suggested I should leave, as I didn’t fit in.

It was not until the following weekend, reintroduced to normality at my parents’, that I realised I was not an aberration. Iwerne was out of step with the world, not I. My husband – not eligible because not public-school-educated, but with his clergy world heavily influenced by it – has boasted ever since that I am the only person to have been sent down from one of its camps.

The Telegraph

British barrister accused of abuse of boarders had been charged in killing of teen

John Smyth, who is alleged to have abused boarders at Christian summer camps, had been charged with killing boy in Zimbabwe

A British barrister who allegedly abused boys at his Christian summer camps was later charged in connection with the killing of a teenage boy in Zimbabwe.

John Smyth QC left the UK after details of his alleged physical abuse of public schoolboys who attended the camps emerged in 1982.

Neither the Iwerne Trust, which ran the Christian camps, the Church of England nor Winchester College, whose pupils were among the alleged victims, reported the case to police.

Instead, Smyth was warned away from Winchester College by the headmaster and left for Zimbabwe, where he set up the Zambesi Mission and ran similar summer camps attended by boys from top public schools in the country.

Channel 4 News reported on Friday that Smyth faced charges in relation to the mysterious death of a 16-year-old boy at one of the camps in Ruzawi. The boy, Guide Nyachuru, was found in 1992 at the bottom of a swimming pool in the grounds of Ruzawi school, where the Zambesi camps were held.

In 1997 Smyth was charged in connection with the killing and with the alleged abuse of five boys. The barrister was also accused of swimming naked with Zimbabwean teenagers, showering with them in the nude and encouraging them to talk about masturbation.

One alleged victim told the broadcaster that Smyth administered savage beatings with wooden bats, in a chilling echo of the allegations made against him in Britain.

The Guardian

Public school defends role in alleged cover up of abuse at Christian camps

Winchester College knew in 1982 about allegations of abuse at the camps but says it didn’t go to the police to save the victims further trauma

One of Britain’s leading public schools has been forced to defend its role in an alleged cover up of serious physical abuse at Christian summer camps attended by its pupils in the 1970s and 1980s.

Winchester College knew in 1982 about allegations of sadomasochistic abuse at the hands of John Smyth, a British QC who ran a series of Christian summer camps known as “bash camps”.

The current archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, also attended the camps as a dormitory officer and knew Smyth but in a statement Lambeth Palace said “no one discussed allegations of abuse by John Smyth with him”.

The abuse emerged that year following a suicide attempt by one of the alleged victims. A secret report into the physical abuse was carried out by the Iwerne Trust, which ran the camps for public schoolboys, in 1982.

It described “horrific” beatings of teenage boys, sometimes until they bled. Winchester College, whose pupils were among the alleged victims, was informed of the allegations but neither the college nor the trust reported Smyth to the police.

Winchester College said no report was made to the police at the time, not least because parents of the victims felt their sons should be spared more trauma. The college had never sought to conceal “these dreadful events”, it said in a statement.

The Guardian

Winchester College: Police investigate alleged ‘brutal lashings’

Police have today launched an investigation into claims that teenage boys from Britain’s leading public schools were violently beaten, in what’s been described as a “sadomasochistic cult” run by a lawyer with links to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Operation Cubic, run by Hampshire Police, will examine allegations uncovered by Channel 4 News that John Smyth QC stripped and brutally lashed 22 young men he had groomed at the Christian youth camps he ran.

Archbishop Justin Welby, who worked at the camps managed by The Iwerne Trust, and was once a colleague of Mr Smyth, issued an “unreserved and unequivocal” apology on behalf of the Church of England, admitting it had “failed terribly”.

In a six month investigation, Channel 4 News spoke to alleged victims who described years of brutal attacks, each involving up to 800 lashes with a garden cane, said to purge them of minor sins such as masturbation and pride.

Many were left wearing adult nappies to stem prolonged bleeding following the attacks which began in the late 1970s and continued for at least three years. The Iwerne Trust and Winchester College, where many of the alleged victims were pupils, were made aware of the allegations in 1982 after one attempted suicide but the Police were not informed at the time.

Channel 4 News

Channel 4 (video news report)

The Guardian

The Telegraph

And alleged boarding school abuses in Ireland continue…

Seemingly another alleged child protection failure at a boarding school?

Gardaí are at an “advanced stage” in the investigation into an alleged sexual assault of a boy at a prestigious boarding school but it is “highly unlikely” any criminal charges will be brought in relation to the incident.

A 13-year-old pupil was allegedly sexually assaulted with a hockey stick by other boys in the dormitory at King’s Hospital school in Palmerstown, Dublin, in November.
Senior sources have revealed that eight boys and the alleged victim have all been interviewed by specialist officers.

But it appears there is no prospect of the case going to court and it is being treated as a instance of “bullying” rather than sexual assault.
All the boys against whom the accusations were made were initially suspended when the allegations first came to light in November.

But the eight are all now back in school.

The Independent (IRL)

Sex crimes against children? Not just in UK boarding schools it seems…

Sweden’s Schools Inspectorate has demanded answers from Sweden’s most elite boarding school, after one or more pupils were reported to the local police for alleged sex crimes.

Lundsbergs Boarding School counts Sweden’s Prince Carl Phillip and the scions of some the country’s richest families among its alumni, earning it the title “Sweden’s Eton”.

But the school has repeatedly faced accusations of severe bullying, with the Schools Inspectorate ordering it to be shut down in 2013 following allegations that boys were burned with hot irons by older pupils.

The Local (Sweden)