Jesus Army leaders in Northamptonshire step down after complaints over handling over abuse claims

The late founder of the Jesus Army, Noel Stanton
The late founder of the Jesus Army, Noel Stanton

The leaders of a Northampton-based Christian organisation, once branded a ‘cult’, have stepped down while complaints into how historical abuse claims were handled are investigated.

The Jesus Army (JA) has confirmed five ‘apostolic’ leaders of the sect, founded in Bugbrooke in 1969, will now be subject to an independent investigation.

Mick Haines, the senior pastor and de facto leader of the Jesus Army is among the men to have stepped down from ‘pastoral duties’, a spokesman told the Chron. The other four to face investigation are Mike Farrant, John Campbell, Ian Callard and Huw Lewis, the spokesman confirmed.

In 2013, the JA called on ex-members to come forward and reveal instances of past abuse, either sexual, physical, financial or spiritual.

Following investigations by ex-members of the fellowship and the Chronicle & Echo, it is now known about 150 claims were made.

But the sect, which still has a strong base in Northampton and underwent a safeguarding review in 2015, has confirmed there have been complaints over the way the five men handled the abuse claims.

Spokesman Laurence Cooper, said in a statement: “Questions have been raised about the handling of information by the senior leadership of the church, relating to past cases of abuse.

“All five people have been involved in the handling of previous cases of abuse in the church. Allegations have been made about the way they handled historic cases. These are unproven allegations, but they do need to be treated seriously and investigated fully.

“The five people you mention have agreed to step down immediately from pastoral duties and any leadership authority in the church while an independent investigation of the allegations is undertaken.”

“They remain members of the church but they are not in a leadership position at this present time.”

Mr Farrant was instrumental in setting up the Jesus Army’s common purse in the 1970s, which still exists in the communes of the organisation today. Mr Campbell, the Jesus Army’s former press officer, was described by Mr Cooper in May as having largely retired from the organisation. In 2013 the Chronicle & Echo reported that he was the leader tasked with collating responses to historical abuse allegations.

A member from within the organisation, who did not wish to be named, felt the leadership team was not expecting so many people to come forward with abuse claims in 2013. “They were very taken aback by it. They were quite unprepared,” he said.

In 2015, after being handed details of the abuse claims by the JA, Northamptonshire Police launched Operation Lifeboat. The probe, looking into historical sexual abuse at the JA, has led to two prosecutions to date, though a spokesman said more prosecutions were likely.

The National Leadership Team (NLT) sits below the apostolic group consisting of the five individuals. Mr Cooper added that there would be no senior pastor in place while the investigation was ongoing.

“Once the NLT receives the findings from this independent investigation, they will consult with (Christian safeguarding charity) CCPAS and other outside agencies to decide what steps need to be taken.”

Victims groups have, in the past, raised concerns about a Christian-based group’s ability to be independent.