Abuse was 'covered up' by religious cult elders, claims leaked report

Gabriella Swerling
·2-min read
The Jesus Army was an evangelical Christian movement that became popular in the UK in the 1970s -  Heathcliff O'Malley
The Jesus Army was an evangelical Christian movement that became popular in the UK in the 1970s - Heathcliff O'Malley

The abuse of women and children was "covered up" by senior members of a disgraced religious sect, a leaked report has claimed.

The Jesus Army, also known as the Jesus Fellowship Church and the Bugbrooke Community, was an evangelical Christian movement that became popular in the UK in the 1970s. 

The movement, which began in Northamptonshire and set up a sprawling community of homes, dissolved last year after the BBC revealed that hundreds of former members were seeking damages for alleged sexual, physical and psychological abuse.

The movement issued an apology to anyone "who experienced harm in the past" after 10 people from the church were convicted of sex offences, and urged victims to contact police.

However, all five surviving leaders of the now defunct cult-like sect were alleged to have effectively colluded with sexual offenders through their failure to handle complaints correctly. There is no suggestion that they knowingly did anything wrong.

The findings, leaked to the BBC in an 800-page report, came following an inquiry commissioned by the church in 2017.

The new report focused on the actions of the so-called Apostolic Group of senior church leaders in the past two decades.

Vicki Lawson-Brown, an independent investigator and safeguarding expert who authored the report, concluded that all five leaders "must take responsibility for their inaction".

According to reports by the BBC, she said women were historically regarded as subservient to men and treated as "domestic servants", which put them and children at higher risk of abuse, and that there was a culture of "blaming victims" and "reinstating disgraced leaders".

Describing one "significant case", she said all of the men, by their failure to act, protected a convicted paedophile who had been allowed to continue in his role as an elder.

In spite of further complaints against the man, he "remained a risk within a community household until 2016, when social services threatened to take action".

The report also concluded by recommending further investigations into a number of other areas, including sexual, spiritual and financial abuse, as well the "inappropriate punishment" of children.