John Smyth dies – just as the CPS gives police go-ahead for his extradition and prosecution

Aug 13, 2018 by

by Martin Sewell, Archbishop Cranmer blog:

John Smyth, who was accused of the sadistic beatings of young men under the guise of Christian discipleship, has died at his home in Cape Town.

This brings to an end one aspect of a case that began in the 1970s/80s and has many unresolved questions to this day. The accusations against Smyth were many: he has been described as the Jimmy Savile of the Church of England, and, like Savile, the full story only seems likely to come out after his death, following which we will learn how people who ‘saw’ didn’t ‘see’; how dots were not joined up, and how wilful blindness descended on institutions which felt that confronting the truth when it needed to be confronted was too painful and too inconvenient for them. Never mind the victims; that’s the way of the world. Yet ‘never mind the victims’ is never the way of Christ.

Before Smyth’s death, we all had to tip-toe around the allegations, mindful of legal propriety. I, who have argued for proper process for Bishop George Bell, am especially mindful of that. I can now say that when I last wrote here I had to re-edit what I had written on learning that His Grace and I might be entering ‘Cliff Richard territory‘ with legal process about to begin just as my piece was posted.

Yet it wasn’t Bell or Cliff territory really. In both of those cases, reputations were trashed on little or no evidence. In Smyth’s case, like Savile’s the allegations were corroborated by a consistent modus operandi, evidenced by something like 26 known victims in the UK including a serving Bishop, and maybe 70 more victims in Africa. It can now be revealed that as I wrote my last piece on Smyth the police had just been advised by the CPS that the evidence had reached the required threshold for a prosecution to be commenced and extradition sought. After many intervening years, that is a high evidential bar to be cleared, and it was.

Whether Smyth knew, and whether this news contributed to his demise directly or indirectly, is not known. I hope he knew or surmised, because only then could he have begun to process the enormity and the consequences of his crimes, and that is, of course, a precursor to full repentance.

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