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  1. ITV Report

Archbishop 'never heard anything' about abuse claims against boys' camp colleague

Justin Welby said there was 'never ever anything that raised suspicion' at the time. Credit: PA

The Archbishop of Canterbury has insisted he was "completely unaware" of allegations of physical abuse involving a former colleague at a holiday camp for teenage boys.

Justin Welby spoke out after the Church of England issued an apology over its handling of abuse allegations.

The accusations have been made against John Smyth, a former leader at the Iwerne camp, which had close links with the church and where Mr Welby worked as a dormitory officer in the late 1970s.

During an interview on LBC Radio on Thursday, the Archbishop said: "I was at that particular camp in the mid-70s. I was young then - 19 to 21 or 22."

He added: "I never heard anything at all, at any point."

Speaking about Mr Smyth, the Archbishop said: "I wasn't a close friend of his. I wasn't in his inner circle or in the inner circle of the leadership of the camp, far from it."

The Archbishop of Canterbury addressed the issue on Nick Ferrari's LBC show. Credit: PA

Outside LBC's studios when asked his message to Mr Smyth's alleged victims, he said: "A lot of victims and survivors of abuse have this nagging sense that somehow it's their fault.

He added: "Absolutely not, quite the reverse. The most terrible things were done to them and it's a terrible shame and disgrace."

Asked if he thought Mr Smyth should face prosecution for his alleged crimes, Mr Welby said: Yes, if he's committed criminal offences then of course he should face prosecution."

The Archbishop has said he first learnt of the alleged abuse in late 2013 or early 2014, by which time it had been reported to the police "as per the Church rules".

"Obviously, it would have been wonderful to have known and been able to stop it but there wasn't any sign at all or any knowledge.

"I went to an all boys school and back in the 70s, people would say 'watch out for so and so', there was never anything like that."

"There was never anything that raised suspicion," he added.

  • Background to the allegations

The allegations emerged following a Channel 4 News investigation into the prominent QC and part-time judge, who is now based in South Africa.

The broadcaster said the Iwerne Trust, which oversaw the Christian camps, was made aware of the claims and compiled a report in 1982 but failed to inform the police.

Titus Trust, which took over some functions of the Iwerne Trust, said it was made aware of the allegations in 2014 and informed police and the Charity Commission.

It said: "The allegations are very grave and they should have been reported to the police when they first became known in 1981."

Public school Winchester College, which had connections with Mr Smyth, confirmed it conducted its own investigation into allegations about him.

"Nothing was held back in 1982 in the school's inquiries.House masters were informed, and many parents consulted, " a statement said.

"The then headmaster met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the college or contact its pupils."

The college said no report was made to the police at the time, partly at the wish of the parents of the boys involved in the allegations.

"The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities, the statement added.

"Winchester College has already been in contact with the police regarding the allegations and will assist further in any criminal investigation."

On Wednesday, Graham Tilby, the Church of England's national safeguarding adviser, said the church had "immediately informed" police after they were alerted by an alleged victim in 2013.