Tracey Emmott's note: Subsequent to publishing the blog below on 26th September 2022, the Jesus Army Fellowship Trust launched its compensation scheme for survivors.
Former members of the church who suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse can now apply for compensation, a written apology and ‘acceptance of responsibilty’, and an invitation to meet with an independent trustee of the church if they wish. The stated aim of the Scheme is to offer ‘fair redress’ to those who have suffered harm, abuse or adverse experiences within the Jesus Fellowship, and to offer ‘swift and compassionate’ settlement, without survivors of abuse having to go through the courts. On those bases, it is welcomed.
The Scheme includes a contribution towards legal costs, so applicants can source legal expertise to best present their case. I would encourage applicants to start the application process early, as a deadline has been set for the end of next year after which time the Scheme will be closed.
If you simply wish to have a chat as to whether you might be eligible for compensation under the Scheme please feel free to contact me. I have acted for survivors of non-recent abuse in a number of collective actions including the Jersey Redress Scheme. I would be happy to explore your options for financial redress on a completely confidential and informal basis.
A Redress Scheme is being set up by the Jesus Fellowship Church Trust (JFCT) to enable fair redress to be available to those who suffered sexual, physical, emotional abuse or adverse experiences whilst living within its Community.
Background: The rise of the Jesus Army
The Jesus Army, also known as The Jesus Fellowship Church Trust, was a neo-charismatic evangelical Christian movement founded in Northamptonshire by a former Baptist Minister, Noel Stanton, in 1969. It attracted thousands of members, from homeless drug addicts to devout Christian families. Their aim was to offer the ‘’saving life of Jesus’’ to any person and help those in need.
The organisation was a centre for a community lifestyle. Over the years the Trust bought and acquired many properties, such as ‘New Creation Hall’ in Bugbrooke, where members lived. This community life was shared; individual earnings and assets were placed in a common fund and any surplus after the basic needs were bought would be donated back to the central church. Most members of the church worked for church owned companies, lived in a church property, and socialised with church members. The Trust owned many companies which enabled them to be, to an extent, self-sustaining. For example, they owned a farm, and building and decorating companies. Many members called the organisation ‘’The Kingdom’’.
The systemic issues leading to its downfall
In the Jesus Army there was a hierarchical leadership structure. Their aim and message to the public was equality and that they could help anyone who needed it. However, it appeared there were systemic failings in the leadership structure and culture which allowed abuse to occur. In ‘’The Closure Statement’’ published by the Chair of Trustees of the Jesus Fellowship Community Trust, it was said that such systemic failings were a combination of certain traditional teachings in the church, for example:
- The leadership structure and culture which allowed an abuse of power as criticism was opposed.
- The teaching of forgiveness, which allowed abusive people to remain in leadership.
- The teaching of loyalty and commitment allowed a manipulation of parental trust in the organisation, allowing children to be abused.
- Women were not treated equally, nor were they listened to.
Ill-treatment was not wholly aimed at women; many boys and men were also abused by senior leaders and other individuals in power.
The members were encouraged to lead an ascetic lifestyle. For example, watching TV was discouraged, they did not celebrate Christmas and children were discouraged from participating in sports, school trips and any other extra-curricular activities. This isolation from the outside world paired with child safety and wellbeing appearing not to be a priority, unfortunately led to many child members being abused, sexually, physically, and emotionally by senior and other members of the church.
The Closure: The fall of the Jesus Army
Following the founder Noel Stanton’s death, in May 2009, the Jesus Army became a little less strict. Knowledge of the abuse in the church surfaced in 2013 when the JFCT invited people to make disclosures about their experiences at the organisation, many came forward with accounts of sexual, emotional, physical, and financial abuse.
This led to a police investigation called ‘’Operation Lifeboat’’, and an independent Review of Safeguarding by The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service (now ThirtyOneEight) was commissioned in 2015.
In total, as of August 2021, 291 allegations of harm and abuse were made against 125 individuals and Trustees are aware of at least another 265 individuals who have registered for redress and have not yet made a disclosure. These allegations relate to incidents of abuse ranging from 1970 to 2019.
The countless allegations and investigations ultimately led to the JFCT’s downfall. In 2017, many senior leaders were suspended, and others stood down. On the 26th of May 2019, the constitution was revoked and in December 2020 the Trust was closed.
The Jesus Fellowship Redress Scheme
Due to the selling of Trust property and the closing of the Trust, many victims have struggled to bring compensation claims against the JFCT. Nonetheless, the Jesus Fellowship Redress Scheme was set up by the Trust and is expected to go live in late 2022. A redress compensation scheme offers businesses an alternative means of righting wrongs committed against a particular group of individuals quickly and economically. The Jesus Army Redress Scheme organisers have said that the aim of their redress scheme is to give ‘’fair redress’’ to those who suffered sexual, physical, emotional abuse or adverse experiences whilst living within its community.
Eligible claimants are entitled to:
- A written apology acknowledging what has happened to them.
- For sexual, physical, or emotional abuse: an award of compensation for harm they have suffered.
- For sexual, physical, or emotional abuse: an invitation to meet with a Trustee of the closing team.
- Grants for counselling, training, and other support.
- Return of capital for previous members of the JFCT.
- Claims for employment matters will also be considered.
The eligibility for this scheme can be found here.
Compensation through a scheme or through the civil courts?
Redress compensation schemes can facilitate swifter resolution of an applicant’s claim for compensation. They can be an adequate vehicle for financial redress where there are otherwise insurmountable legal obstacles, such as time limits and evidential problems. They can provide a victim/survivor with more certainty of success.
However, it should be noted that such schemes often do not compensate for lost earnings and are limited to awards for pain and suffering, and possibly some treatment costs only.
When the Jesus Fellowship Redress Scheme goes live, a victim/survivor will need to weigh up the pros and cons of proceeding with the help of professional specialist legal advice. There is also the option of pursuing a civil compensation claim through the civil courts, which can allow for more flexibility regarding what you can be compensated for.
How we can help
If you have suffered sexual abuse (recent or non-recent) in the Jesus Fellowship or a similar organisation and are wondering what to do about it, or are unsure of what route to take, please don’t hesitate to contact us for an informal initial chat or download our eBook, which we hope may be of some assistance to you. We will be pleased to assist.