Detectives did not pursue a number of claims of physical abuse against a Northampton-based religious sect because ‘corporal punishment’ was not illegal in the 1970s and 1980s.
Jesus Army members contacted the religious organisation between 2013 and 2015 to make allegations of physical abuse perpetrated within the community.
These complaints were passed on to Northamptonshire Police along with a number of allegations of sexual abuse.
The force formed operation Lifeboat to look into the sex assault claims, and is understood to be on the verge of making a number of prosecutions.
But the officer that led that investigation – detective chief inspector Ally White - has now confirmed that the force did not pursue a number of allegations of physical abuse, or ‘rodding’. The term is used to describe a form of physical beating using a cane or blunt implement, which would be illegal by today’s standards.
In a statement to the Chron this week, DCI White, said: “We have investigated allegations of physical assault - so-called ‘rodding’– from the 1970s up until the mid-1980s.
“However, these allegations were made at a time when corporal punishment was still legal in this country and no potential victims have since come forward to pursue a complaint. We have spoken to a lot of people in relation to these allegations.”
DCI White went on to confirm that police were in fact told of a number of abuse allegations some 14 years before Operation Lifeboat was formed, though he did not say why further action was not pursued then.
In its heyday the sect, which many have called a ‘cult’, operated a number of communal houses, often with several families living in them at a time.
Its leader and founder Noel Stanton operated a strict regime, which involved members paying into a communal fund and in some cases taking a vow of celibacy.
The Chronicle & Echo has learned that some of the physical abuse allegations related to a summer school run by the Jesus Army at Cornhill Manor in Pattishall. The purpose of the school was to provide activities for the children in the Jesus Army over the summer holidays.
The news that a number of physical abuse claims were made comes a month after the sect itself revealed claims of physical, sexual and financial abuse were made against the army’s deceased founder Noel Stanton.
In a statement made to an annual meeting, current leader Mick Haines claimed Stanton had operated in an ‘unaccountable position’.
However Mr Haines and senior leaders of the church – known as the apostolic order – have refused interviews with the Chron, even though former teacher Mr Haines has been with the sect since the 1970s. He also played a part in the running of the summer school in Pattishall.
Instead, all responses have been issued by Jesus Army spokesman, Laurence Cooper.
The organisation underwent a safeguarding review in 2015 carried out by another Christian organisation, the CCPAS. Though critics have questioned how thorough that review was, given that its scope was limited to looking at the current practices in place.
A former senior leader told the Chron the current apostolic team had a duty to respond to some of the allegations of historical abuse directly, rather than relying on an anonymous spokesman.
“I would say there is no problem with any of those guys giving interviews,” the source said.
“Mick Haines is the most senior leader so of course he should. He may not be aware of all the facts.
“But in terms of the culture of authority, he himself was a part of that.”
A spokesman for the Jesus Army said: “Parents - and people in the church generally- are actively and strongly discouraged from physical violence of any sort. “If we became aware of anyone using physical punishment this would be a matter we would want to refer to social services and/or police.
“We encourage church members to be aware of what’s going on around them, and if they feel that there is a person being mistreated they should speak up.
“They are encouraged to voice any concerns to our safeguarding team, or the Police, or CCPAS.
“We want anyone who has experienced any sort of physical abuse at all to talk to the Police, or CCPAS, or to the Jesus Fellowship’s own safeguarding team, who will offer them every support.”