Daily Dispatch

Activist was accused of boy’s death

- By DAVE CHAMBERS

A LEGAL activist who left Britain amid child abuse claims was later accused of killing a teenage boy in Zimbabwe.

John Smyth‚ 75‚ head of the Justice Alliance of South Africa (Jasa)‚ was charged with culpable homicide after a 16-year-old was found dead in a holiday camp swimming pool.

The former part-time judge was also accused of swimming naked with teenagers‚ showering with them in the nude and encouragin­g them to talk about masturbati­on‚ a Channel 4 News documentar­y reported on Thursday.

In the UK‚ a report produced by a church charity but hushed up in 1982 – two years before Smyth left for Zimbabwe – said he had administer­ed “horrific” beatings to at least 22 boys at Christian holiday camps held at Winchester College in Hampshire in the 1970s and 1980s‚ often after reading the Bible to them.

Hampshire police began investigat­ing the claims on Thursday while Smyth and his wife‚ Anne‚ welcomed visitors to their home in Bergvliet‚ Cape Town‚ but refused to answer questions or respond to messages.

The lawyer moved to Zimbabwe in 1984 and founded Zambesi Ministries‚ which held holiday camps for boys from leading schools similar to those run in the UK by the Iwerne Trust‚ a church charity chaired by Smyth.

He was arrested in 1997 over the death five years earlier of Guide Nyachuru‚ whose body was found in the camp swimming pool.

The case of culpable homicide was dismissed. He also faced crimen injuria charges after five other boys said they had been subjected to savage beatings‚ Channel 4 News reported.

Court documents from the time say: “The particular allegation­s are that [Smyth] made the complainan­ts walk naked to the swimming pool at night; that he took showers with them in the nude; that he talked to them about masturbati­on and told them to be proud of their ‘dicks’‚ as Jesus Christ had one; and that he assaulted them on their ‘rear bare buttocks’ with a table tennis bat.”

The case collapsed in 1998 after Smyth argued in the Supreme Court that prosecutor­s had overstated the claims and failed to follow proper procedures.

Channel 4 News tracked down boys who attended the camps‚ who insisted the allegation­s were true.

One of them‚ Rocky Leanders‚ said Smyth encouraged boys to talk about masturbati­on and to “just feel free to embrace your body and love your body”.

He told the broadcaste­r the lawyer told the boys to swim naked‚ adding: “John took part in the activity. He certainly went in the pool. He was at various places throughout still naked‚ watching that we all went out and all came back in.”

Later the boys claimed they were subjected to beatings with wooden bats. “I remember I could barely sit down because my bum cheek was so sore‚” he said.

Nyachuru’s sister‚ Edith‚ said that if church authoritie­s had reported Smyth to the UK police in 1982‚ “my brother wouldn’t have met the fate he met”.

Approached in Bristol‚ UK‚ by Channel 4 News presenter Cathy Newman‚ Smyth said Nyachuru’s death was “a very unfortunat­e drowning incident”. He said he had not left Britain because of abuse claims‚ but because “God called us to Zimbabwe”.

Smyth and his family moved to South Africa in 2001‚ and he began campaignin­g for what the Justice Alliance calls “the highest moral standards in South African society”.

It has involved itself in campaigns against pornograph­y on TV‚ on behalf of gun owners‚ and to make it illegal for anyone to have sex before they are 18.

The Jasa board yesterday said it had asked Smyth to step down with immediate effect over the allegation­s.

Chairman Msizi Cele said yest that Smyth was informed earlier this week his services were no longer required.

Although he described Smyth’s suspension as temporary‚ he said the 75-year-old British lawyer was not expected to return to work at the alliance.

Cele would not say whether the board planned to investigat­e the allegation­s against Smyth.

“We are considerin­g our options after he was asked him to step down earlier this week‚” said Cele.

“The board has been aware of the allegation­s for some time. The nature of this matter is shocking.”

Another board member‚ Stephen van Rhyn‚ said he was “appalled” by the allegation­s against Smyth.

“If the allegation­s are substant then our expectatio­n would also be that Mr Smyth would face prosecutio­n in the UK‚” he said.

Van Rhyn‚ who is the pastor at Jubilee Community Church in Observator­y‚ Cape Town‚ denied reports that Smyth was a member.

Yesterday Smyth’s home was locked up and neighbours said he and his wife had left. — TMG

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