Gloriavale man charged with sexual violation, indecent assault

Gloriavale Christian Community, across from Lake Haupiri, on the West Coast.

Gloriavale Christian Community, across from Lake Haupiri, on the West Coast.

A Gloriavale man faces sex charges after a major police inquiry into allegations of abuse at the isolated West Coast religious community. 

The man, aged in his early 40s and whose name is suppressed, has been charged with two counts of sexual violation and two of indecent assault.

He appeared before a registrar in the Greymouth District Court on Tuesday when an interim suppression order was continued for a week. The man, who first appeared in court on the charges on September 5, has been told he must enter a plea by October 24 and remains on bail.

Gloriavale women and girls.

Gloriavale women and girls.

The sexual offending is said to have occurred between 2010 and 2013 and relates to one female victim.

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The man declined to comment when approached on Tuesday.

A baptism at Gloriavale.

A baptism at Gloriavale.

The Gloriavale community near Lake Haupiri east of Greymouth has been the subject of several recent investigations.

Police began an inquiry in 2015 after media aired allegations made by ex-members of the community. 

A source said some of the allegations related to outdated punishment practices and police chose education rather than prosecution to deal with them.

"The police initially thought it was bigger than Ben Hur, but when they got in there it wasn't," he said.

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Charities Services, a division of the Department of Internal Affairs, began an inquiry in 2015. The investigation revealed Gloriavale leaders had a policy of not notifying police of sexual or physical assault allegations when they were first reported. 

If they were found to be true, "involved parties" would be gathered together and warned not to "disobey the commandments of the Bible" or break "the law of New Zealand", the policy said.

The trustees would then seek to "bring the offender to genuine repentance for their transgression toward the person".

They would "watch carefully afterwards and check up, that all such sexual assault has come to a complete end".

If the offending continued they would then tell the offender to confess to the police. If the person did not, Gloriavale leaders would notify police, the policy said.

Controversy dogged the community last year when suppression orders were lifted to reveal ​Prayer Ready, 14, who had Down Syndrome, choked to death in 2015 in an isolation room where the door could not be opened from the inside.

Coroner Marcus Elliott ruled it a tragic accident.

The community is led by Hopeful Christian, formerly known as Neville Cooper, who was jailed in 1995 after a jury found him guilty of indecently assaulting girls aged between 12 and 19. The offences occurred in Cust when the community was based there. Christian is now in his 90s.

Ex-members say the community is well organised and provides a comfortable lifestyle but allows little personal freedom or privacy and puts a group of male leaders on a pedestal. 

The community controversially arranges the marriage of teenaged girls to boys even if the parties are not happy with the match. They are told the marriages are "God's will". The lack of birth control means the community has expanded rapidly. 

Members who want to leave are given no help from the community leadership and some families have been split. 

West Coast Area Commander Melanie Aitken said police had a positive relationship with Gloriavale and regularly visited the community. 

"We address any identified risks ... to ensure those residing within the community are kept safe from harm," she said. 

 - Stuff

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