Top lawyer compares Gloriavale's leadership to Islamic State

A top Auckland lawyer has likened Gloriavale's leadership to the terrorist organisation, Islamic State [IS].

That might sound like an extreme comparison, but he's referring to the control leaders have over the flock.

Dennis Gates has been investigating the secretive group for the past nine months, and says the continued operation of the West Coast sect represents a significant failure by government agencies to stop what amounts to "enslavement".

Lawyer Dennis Gates - frustrated, disillusioned and appalled by what he found while researching Gloriavale, a community built on the Christian faith.

"The people with the power in Gloriavale have weaponized that faith and used it against the residents. They have developed a community that I can only describe as something as vicious and depraved as somewhere like IS."

He compares them to IS not because Gloriavale's leaders rely on an armed militia, but because he believes they use fear and a twisted form of religion to control people.

"It's got to the point down there where there is no freedom of thought. It is a psychological mind trap," he says.

"I formed the opinion very early on in the piece when I was researching all the aspects of Gloriavale that this community is built on deceit and I have not changed from that opinion."

Current members told Newshub leaders control their movements, who they marry and how they act.

"If you displease the leaders, in any way, they can basically force you out of your home and separate you from your wife and children," one member told Newshub.

"Leaders should not have control over every aspect of your life... everyone is scared to answer them," another said.

WorkSafe is sending inspectors into Glorivale, but Gates says that's not enough.

"Something should have been done about this decades ago. Every government agency that has been in there has allowed themselves to be duped," he says.

"Every power, resource, authority has gone in, in a silo fashion looked at what they've had to look at and ignored what else they have seen."

The leader of New Zealand First agrees government departments have failed.

"Any inquiry will find that to be fact," Winston Peters tells Newshub.

"I've been concerned about that place for a long time now. It's not another Jonestown or Waco, but it's got a semblance of that sort of behaviour, which is seriously repugnant to our society, and our rule and our law."

Gates is part of a legal team taking a High Court case to remove Gloriavale's trustees.

Gates worked on the Winebox Inquiry and he struggled for years before he succeeded in getting compensation for RSA survivor Susan Couch. But he says Gloriavale is by far his most important legal assignment yet.

"I went through Gloriavale and what I saw just horrified me, and what I was told about what I saw was even worse," he tells Newshub.

"It's hard not to be moved. I've practised law for the past 35 years, not actively for the last eight. I've seen and heard incredible things. Nothing like this."

Despite the situation there, it's not straightforward or simplistic for people to just walk out and leave.

Gates says people need to remember that everyone under the age of 50 at Gloriavale was born there. He says their "minds are conditioned" right from the very beginning to do what the leaders tell them. He says they're told if they don't follow that they won't go to Heaven. The residents know the rules according to the leaders - but they know nothing else.

Gloriavale has been contacted for comment.

Former Gloriavale member, John Ready, is taking a High Court case against Gloriavale. 

You can support his efforts by visiting his Givealittle.