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August 7th 2020

Abuse

Lawyers working to establish compensation scheme for survivors as inquiry report says church leaders ‘covered up’ Jesus Army’ abuse

Malcolm Johnson

Malcolm Johnson

Senior Solicitor, Abuse

Lawyers working to establish compensation scheme for survivors as inquiry report says church leaders ‘covered up’ Jesus Army’ abuse

Solicitor Malcolm Johnson, who heads Hudgell Solicitors’ work in abuse claims, reacts to reports around an investigation into abuse at the Jesus Fellowship Church.

Solicitor Malcolm Johnson, who heads Hudgell Solicitors’ work in abuse claims, reacts to reports around an investigation into abuse at the Jesus Fellowship Church.

Given our ongoing work to establish a compensation scheme for victims of abuse at the Jesus Fellowship Church, it is with great interest that I have read reports today on the findings of an independent inquiry into the disgraced religious sect.

The BBC says the report – which is still to be officially published – highlights how abuse of women and children was covered-up by senior members of the church, which started in Northamptonshire in the 1970s and acquired a number of properties in which its members and their families lived.

The ‘Jesus Army’, as it became known, attracted thousands of members, but survivors have alleged ‘prolific’ abuse including rapes, brainwashing and brutal or sexualised beating of young children by groups of men, mostly in the 1980s and 90s.

Forty-three people who were active in the church have been named as alleged perpetrators, including founder Noel Stanton. When he died in 2009, the church handed allegations of sexual offences against Stanton and others to Northamptonshire Police.

Church apologised to ‘anyone who experienced harm in the past’a

Last year the Jesus Fellowship Church apologised to ‘anyone who experienced harm in the past’ and urged victims to contact police after hundreds of former members alleged sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

They said the church not only failed to protect them, but even colluded to prevent the abuse being reported. Ten people from the church have been convicted of sexual abuse.

The inquiry report, by Independent investigator Vicki Lawson-Brown, focussed on the actions of a group of church leaders, known as the ‘Apostolic Group’.

It says women were historically regarded as subservient to men and treated as ‘domestic servants’, which placed them and children at higher risk of abuse.

It describes a culture of ‘blaming victims’ and ‘reinstating disgraced leaders’, highlighting a case where a convicted paedophile was allowed to continue in his role despite a number of complaints about him, remaining a risk within a community household until 2016, when social services threatened to take action.

Compensation can’t lessen damage of abuse, but can help bring closure.

The summary of the report from the BBC certainly makes appalling reading. It says that over the past year the Jesus Fellowship Church Trust, which has declined to comment on the review, has been disposing of properties and assets totalling tens of millions of pounds.

It is expected some of the funds raised will be used to compensate victims, and that must be the case.a

As Erin Woodger, Chairman of the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association, which represents about 800 alleged victims, says, compensation cannot repair or make up for the abuse these people have suffered.

However, it can bring recognition of the suffering people endured, and help them find some kind of closure over what happened to them.

As a lawyer with decades of experience in supporting victims of abuse, many of which have been in similar settings, I know just how important that can be.

We are proud to be working with the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association and the Church’s solicitor to work towards the creation a compensation scheme for survivors of abuse.

This is not an easy process, as so many suffered so badly at the hands of the church, particularly children. However, we hope to have a scheme ready soon, and are determined to bring some form of justice to all those who suffered.

Malcolm can be contacted at mj@hudgellsolicitors.co.uk

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