Activist was accused of boy’s death
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