The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby apologised on Wednesday evening (1 February 2017) to men who were allegedly abused and ceremonially beaten by John Smyth at a Christian holiday camp where Welby was dormitory officer in the 1970s.

Welby admitted that the Church of England had "failed terribly" when it did not contact police following an internal report into Smyth's activities. Smyth had been chairman of the Irwene Trust, a charity that ran Bible camps for public school boys.

He lived in Winchester, where he is said to have developed a cult-like following in the 1970s and 80s. It is alleged that he would take boys into his shed, recite passages from the Bible and then beat them with a cane to make them "become holy".

Some youths reported bleeding so severely that they were forced to wear adult nappies. The claims are to be aired by Channel 4 in the UK on Thursday evening (2 February) and were reported by The Times.

A Lambeth Palace statement said that the archbishop "was not part of the inner circle of friends; no one discussed allegations of abuse by John Smyth with him" and that the two did not stay in touch when Smyth moved abroad "apart from the occasional card".

It added: "We recognise that many institutions fail catastrophically, but the Church is meant to hold itself to a far, far higher standard and we have failed terribly. For that the archbishop apologises unequivocally and unreservedly to all survivors."

A 1982 report by individuals connected to the Irwene Trust uncovered the allegations against Smyth. It was commissioned after a 21-year-old Cambridge University student attempted suicide after he was said to have been ordered to submit to another of Smyth's beatings

A report "into these horrific activities" drawn up by people linked with the Iwerne Trust, a non-denominational Christian charity, should have been forwarded to the police at the time, the Church of England said last night.

The Church added: "We echo the archbishop's unreserved and unequivocal apology."

Smyth, 75, once acted as a barrister for Mary Whitehouse against Gay News after the publication of a poem written from the point of view of a Roman Centurion, describing a sexual encounter with Jesus.

Responding to the allegations, Smyth told Channel 4 News: "I'm not talking about what we did at all." He called some of the claims nonsense and declined to respond to further requests.