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Jesus Army leaders ‘covered up decades of abuse’

Website: The Times
Date: 06/08/2020
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Decades of abuse of women and children at a cult-like religious movement was covered up by its senior members, a report has found.

The disgraced Jesus Army sect, based in Northamptonshire, became prominent in the 1970s and established a sprawling community of houses.

Members, who ranged from homeless drug addicts to devout Christian families, were put to work in farms or businesses and forced to hand over money and possessions. Ten people have been convicted of sex offences and hundreds of former members are seeking damages for sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

Last year the organisation was dissolved and apologised to anyone “who experienced harm in the past” and urged victims to contact police.

The sect commissioned an inquiry in 2017 and its report, leaked to the BBC, says it found that all five surviving leaders had colluded with sexual offenders through their handling of complaints. The independent investigator, Vicki Lawson-Brown, said there was a culture of “blaming victims” and “reinstating disgraced leaders”.

The inquiry also found that women were historically regarded as subservient to men and treated as “domestic servants”, which put them and children at higher risk of abuse. It said that further investigations should be made into financial, spiritual and financial abuse and the “inappropriate punishment” of children.

Erin Woodger, chairman of the Jesus Fellowship Survivors Association, which represents about 800 alleged victims, said that nothing would “repair or make up for the abuse these people have suffered”.

A spokesman for the Jesus Fellowship Church Trust did not comment on the report’s findings, claiming that the leak was a breach of data protection laws. However, he said: “The trustees repeat our sincere apology, as we have before, to those who have been harmed as a consequence of actions or inactions by those in the church.”