Centrepoint leader Bert Potter dies

04:44, May 06 2012
Bert Potter
Bert Potter during his time as leader of the Centrepoint Commune.

Bert Potter the controversial founder of the Centrepoint commune in Albany, Auckland, has died. He was 86.

Centrepoint was a spiritual community that numbered in the hundreds with people seeking the common goal of liberating themselves physically, emotionally and sexually.

After a police raid in 1991 the reality of Centrepoint came to light when six men and two women, including Potter, were arrested and charged with offences including indecent assaulting a minor and attempted rape of a minor.

Bert Potter
Bert Potter at his Helensville home in 2010.

In 1992, Potter was sentenced to seven years jail after he was found guilty of 13 charges of indecently assaulting five girls, some as young as three and a half, between 1979 and 1984.

Potter's daughter in law, Felicity Goodyear-Smith, the wife of his son John, said today Potter passed away at Middlemore Hospital, in South Auckland, at 1am.

She said he had been living in a small pensioner flat in Auckland until about two months ago when his heath deteriorated to such a level that he was transferred to a rest home.

Advertisement

He suffered from Alzheimer's and had reached the stage where he wasn't aware what was going on around him, she said.

He had a fall yesterday and was admitted to hospital after losing consciousness.

According to crime.co.nz Potter was born in Christchurch on May 20, 1925 to parents Fanny and Dick.

He studied engineering at Christchurch Technical College and at 16 joined the Home Guard. He was accepted for air crew training through the Air Training Corps but never saw battle in the Second World War.

Before Centrepoint he worked variously as a clerk for the Department of Labour, a teacher, a salesman and a businessman.

Centrepoint was started after Potter made a journey to India to meet a guru and developed plans for a self-supporting community.

On his return he began holding regular meetings to promote his concepts and gathered together a group of converts with which he purchased a 30-acre block of bushland near Albany, Auckland.

In 1977 the first people, including Potter, lived in a small farmhouse with others camped in tents nearby.

The community made money by taking the revenue from new member's assets.

The site said meetings were held once a week and these often led to therapy sessions as members fronted with their feelings.

The council fought to remove the commune from the land and a planning tribunal decision meant that only 60 people were allowed to reside on the land at any one time but, despite that numbers continued to grow.

In April 1981, Centrepoint applied to the council to increase its allowable numbers for people living there to 300.  The council turned down the application.

Two years later an amendment bill was passed through Parliament resulting in Centrepoint being fined $10,000 a day for violation of the limit of people legally allowed to live there.

The council threatened to enact this - forcing the Centrepoint members to move between locations as they were effectively homeless.

In  1985 Centrepoint was granted the right to have 224 members live at the commune in Albany.

But, just six years later police raided Centrepoint and arrested six men and two women on charges of indecent assault and rape.

Seven were convicted, including Potter, who was convicted of indecently assaulting five minors.

Six other members were eventually convicted of charges including indecent assault of a minor and attempted rape of a minor.

A study on the commune found that  not all of the children who lived at the commune were abused but sexual relations with children as young as 10 occurred regularly.

The Centrepoint site has since been occupied by an eco village.

Goodyear-Smith said the Potter family would be ''rallying'' from around the world for a funeral to be held on Auckland's North Shore on Saturday.