The Sunday Independent

Boys spoke about Smyth’s bizarre behaviour

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Snew details emerged in Zimbabwe and the UK this week about how teenage boys suffered at Christian holiday camps run by John Smyth, 75, a leading barrister and part-time UK judge who now lives in Cape Town.

Zimbabwe’s top human rights lawyer David Coltart released details of some of the boys suffering within a 24-page report he released to Independen­t Newspapers.

More and more of Smyth’s victims have come forward to UK and South African journalist­s to tell their stories about the beatings and humiliatio­n and sexual confusion they endured at his hands when they were vulnerable teenagers, all of which were in some way linked to his bizarre sexual behaviour.

Coltart was asked by a group of churches in Bulawayo to investigat­e Smyth, his Zambezi Ministries and the holiday camps he establishe­d after arriving in Zimbabwe in 1984.

The churches in Bulawayo were approached by parents of some of the boys who had attended Smyth’s holiday camps. The churches then went to Coltart whose human rights work was well known.

His report details incidents the boys endured and interviews with trustees of Zimbabwe ministries.

Coltart’s report says that teenage Zimbabwe boys attending Smyth’s camp were regularly not allowed to wear underwear during the day or night and were forbidden to shut the door when they went to the toilet. Some were beaten and forced to walk around nude or skinny dip and bounce around naked on a trampoline watched by Smyth, who was also nude, but was then a middle-aged man.

The boys reported Smyth kept on talking to them about masturbati­on and was often around them naked, even when they were showering, or praying with them.

But on one camp, he clearly went too far, and some of the boys were greatly disturbed and confided in their mothers.

“They were miserable when we picked them up from the camp near Harare. They told me they had been beaten,” said Stella Leanders, whose older son Rocky, who now lives in the UK, was on the camp that year with his younger brother and cousin.

He was 14 and the other two boys were just 13. She examined the boys at home and took them to a doctor who found bruises on one of their backsides a week after he had been beaten.

Although Smyth used a table tennis bat on these boys and others, he managed to break it on one boy’s backside on one of the camps.

There were five boys from that camp who complained about Smyth’s bizarre behaviour towards them and their parents then laid charges with police in Bulawayo.

The boys were all pupils at Christian Brothers College in Bulawayo. Their parents also went to see their church leaders in Bulawayo. And they in turn approached Coltart who said he was happy to do the report pro amicus.

Coltart’s report for the churches which included profession­al opinions from medical doctors was then released to all those concerned with Smyth’s activities in Zimbabwe, including principals of schools attended by many of the boys who would want to attend the camps. “We don’t know what happened to the charges against Smyth,” Coltart said.

Leanders said: “The charges just seemed to fade away. We understood that perhaps a deal was done that he would leave Zimbabwe.”

Coltart also met several of the trustees of the Zambezi Ministries and at the end of the report there were recommenda­tions that Smyth cease all work with young people and seek profession­al help.

One boy who attended one of Smyth’s holiday camps in Zimbabwe died after skinny dipping in the pool at night. Smyth was charged with culpable homicide but the case was dismissed and he then left Zimbabwe in 1998.

Andrew Watson, bishop of Guildford, said he had now contacted the police, “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.”

So far 22 men in the UK have been identified as victims of Smyth’s cruel beatings with a cane, some of which took place in his garden shed at his house.

“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 once-off experience never to be repeated.”

The Daily Telegraph ran a report this week from another victim in the UK, who chose not to be identified, but who wrote his story for the newspaper. He says he was beaten by Smyth for years. And felt obliged to submit to Smyth, for reasons he is now not sure he understand­s. “The physical scars took about two years to completely leave my skin, but the legacy of the abuse that I suffered at Smyth’s hands has stayed with me throughout adult life.”

He said he became “secretive and withdrawn” when he learned that Smyth had moved to Zimbabwe and set up similar camps to the ones he had run in the UK. “I’ve been treated in hospital for depression five times and there have been suicide attempts too. All cries for help.”

He said only after the Channel 4 documentar­y was shown was he able to tell his story and has now reported it to the UK police. Smyth’s beatings in the UK were not reported to the UK police at the time.

The Daily Telegraph also interviewe­d one of the UK donors who supported Smyth for years, both in the UK and Zimbabwe and even sent him money to Cape Town earlier this month.

Jamie Colman, a lawyer in the UK from the famous Coleman mustard family, continued to back Smyth’s version of events even when he went to Zimbabwe: He told the Daily Telegraph this week: “The beatings and nudity were justified in the context of a weak church; Zambezi Ministries was aimed at portraying Christiani­ty as a rugged, manly religion.”

South African police said this week British police had not contacted them about Smyth. “His name does not show up on the Interpol lists,” said Brigadier Vish Naidoo.

Smyth, who travels regularly to the UK, has not taken any calls from media since the story broke last week. He has not answered emails either. His pastor, Andrew Thomson, of Church-on-Main, has asked Smyth and his wife Anne to cease any leadership role within the church.

The couple live in Bergvliet but have not been seen outside their home. It is clear from Coltart’s report, that Smyth’s eldest son, PJ Smyth, a former head boy at one of Zimbabwe’s top private schools, knew there was some criticism of his father’s behaviour with teenage boys in Zimbabwe.

PJ Smyth went on to form a private church in Harare called River of Life which still operates in Zimbabwe. Then he came to Johannesbu­rg where he worked in another independen­t church and in December was hired as a pastor at a church organisati­on in Maryland in the US. – Independen­t foreign service

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