Lies from Winchester College, Hampshire, about child sexual abuse

A series of allegations have surfaced about a senior figure in the Church of England Evangelical movement. The allegations are that during he 1970’s this man carried out regular and repeated homosexual sado-masochistic beatings of boys and young men – both at Christian camps and, apparently, in his garden shed in Winchester.

It appears that Winchester College (a “leading public school”) knew about these activities and did not report the matter to the police. The present authorities at Winchester College have issued a media statement. The text is copied here:

Physical Punishment, 1977 ‐ 1982

Winchester College deeply regrets the terrible ordeals of the victims and pays tribute to their courage in speaking out.   The College has never sought to conceal these dreadful events.  Nothing was held back in 1982 in the school’s enquiries. Housemasters were informed, and many parents consulted.  The then Headmaster met John Smyth and required him to undertake never again to enter the College or contact its pupils.  No report was made to the police at the time, not least because, understandably, parents of the victims felt that their sons should be spared further trauma, and these wishes were respected.  We do not know whether any pupils or parents, undergraduates or university authorities, reported the matter directly to the police.

College authorities did their best to deal responsibly and sensitively with a difficult situation, in accordance with the standards of the time.  That John Smyth went on to abuse further, reveals the inadequacy of those standards.  The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities. Winchester College has already been in contact with the police regarding the allegations and will assist further in any criminal investigation.

The School has already reached out to victims where it has been able to do so.  A Victim Support Plan has been drawn up, and access to this provision is available to any former pupil who has been affected by these appalling events.


This is a truly disgusting attempt to evade any responsibility and precisely what we would expect from a school such as Winchester College. Firstly; what is alleged is anything but the innocuous sounding “physical punishment”. The alleged abuser held no official role in the school (at least he was not  a teacher). It seems he simply hung around preying on young men who were interested in Christianity. He invited them – according to the allegations – to his shed and abused them there. This has nothing, zero, to do with ‘physical punishment’. It would appear that Winchester College is trying to cover up this foul abuse by downplaying it as “physical punishment”, which would have been lawful at the time.

The most sickening aspect of this attempt to evade any responsibility however lies in the attempt to blame “the standards of the time”. They are trying to say that they followed the “standards of the time” – and it was the standards which were not good enough. Thus – no blame can be attached to them. However; there were no “standards” at that time – as there are today. (As in standards of ‘Child Protection’). The “standards” referred to here are an invention of Winchester College. It is true that at the time (the 1980s) it was characteristic of institutions to deal with this kind of scandal by attempting to hush it up. But that is not a standard. The problem is (and we would hope that at least the ‘Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse‘ manages to establish this) that at that time institutions – such as Winchester College – acted in these matters only to protect themselves. Abusers were left free to abuse others. (In a sordid attempt to blackmail potential critics Winchester College tries to explain that this was done to protect the children from trauma. In reality being part of a cover-up protects no one from trauma. This would be a truism of child protection today and it is astonishing that Winchester College presents it as a reason for their inaction). In trying to construct this illusion about “standards of the time” Winchester College is trying to evade responsibility. In attempting a new cover-up Winchester College shows that it is still not ready to take responsibility. Those who don’t learn from history are, of course, condemned to repeat it. (Interestingly, during the 1980s history was not taught as a subject at Winchester College…)

Even today Winchester College clearly has no grasp of the law and regulations concerning Child Protection. They write: “The law today is very different from 35 years ago, insisting that any allegation must be immediately reported to the authorities.” That isn’t the case. There is currently a campaign by some charities to have such a law passed. But it is not currently the law. This is explained in a government consultation document on mandatory reporting: “There is currently no general legal requirement on those working with children to report either known or suspected child abuse or neglect”.  [1]. If Winchester College can’t even get basic facts right in an important statement about alleged serious abuse we can ask – what do they know about current Child Protection standards?

This author had the misfortune to attend Winchester College during the 1980s. He was abused by a revolting alcoholic house-master for 5 years. This man’s severe alcoholism was known to the school authorities but he was allowed to continue in post – to cause untold emotional damage to dozens of young men. When this author wrote to the current authorities at Winchester College in 2001 he was immediately referred to the College’s lawyers. When he replied pointing out that he had not mentioned legal action he received a dismissive reply that the College was pleased that he was not taking legal action about “a matter which happened such a long time ago”. The common theme is that Winchester College has only one interest; to protect itself as an institution. In neither this author’s experience, nor in their response to the current sexual abuse allegations, do we see any real evidence of contrition or apology.

My thoughts above are expressed much more eloquently by one of the abuser’s Winchester College victims:

As I said after the final news report in my silhouetted interview, I am hoping that those institutions who have known mine and other victims’ stories for so many years, but merely stepped back and observed, will now reconsider their responsibilities and act in the best interests of the victims, not themselves and their reputations. [2]

Except we can add that based on the media statement by Winchester College there doesn’t seem to be much sign of them acting in the interests of the victims and doing anything other than considering their reputations.

Update 26 March 2021

I just thought this was interesting as an example of just how good the establishment is at cover-ups. This is an article in the Daily Telegraph about this case – it seems one of the perpetrator’s host organisations have commissioned a review into him which has now reported. The Daily Telegraph article contains this sentence: “The abuse did not take place at the camps or Winchester College.”. Which appears to be technically true. But the allegations (not in serious dispute it seems) are that he ‘groomed’ the children (‘young men’ – the choice of words is a result of how you want to curate the story) from the school, in the school, and then took them home for the actual floggings. This information does appear later in the article. But (and this is a technique I’ve noticed a  lot in the Guardian and Independent) – the storyline which they want you to take away appears as a categoric statement near the top of the article. The details appear later, “below-the-fold” in marketing terms. This way they can get the story they want to get across to those readers who only scan the first part of the article “not at Winchester college” while avoid any charge of not telling the truth, by including the details further down.  Anyway – despite this lawerly and unnecessary disclaimer the details do appear in the rest of the text. And they aren’t pretty. (If the 8,000 ‘stokes’ between 2 boys over 3 years is meaningful in any way it puts into perspective Winchester College’s initial account of this as being ‘physical punishment’).


1. UK gov. consultation document on mandatory reporting

2. Telegraph