Government agencies accused of allowing abuse at Gloriavale to continue

Government agencies accused of allowing abuse at Gloriavale to continue
Photo credit: Newshub

By Jean Edwards for RNZ

Four government agencies are being accused of knowingly allowing abuse to happen at Gloriavale, in High Court action brought by a leavers' lawyer who describes the community as a "sex cult cloaked in Christianity".

Barrister Brian Henry has filed proceedings against Oranga Tamariki, the Department of Internal Affairs, Ministry of Social Development and Labour Inspectorate, after sending a letter to the Prime Minister and other senior ministers calling for the West Coast commune to be shut down.

Henry criticised the failure of previous governments and officials in the 6 December letter, arguing inaction had turned them into "enablers".

"My clients seek immediate action at ministerial level to close the Gloriavale community," he said.

"Enabling ongoing abuse of little children by the dint of their birth into the community is a gross dereliction of their duty.

"On the previous government's watch, the government and officials involved have enabled the continuation of the entrapment of those born into the community, a community that the police have now demonstrated has bred and will continue to breed males who commit serious sexual abuse, serious criminal offending against vulnerable young females."

The letter was sent to Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, ACT leader David Seymour, Attorney General Judith Collins, Social Development Minister Louise Upston and Education Minister Erica Stanford.

Its release coincided with the final episode of the documentary series Escaping Utopia on TVNZ, in which two former members travelled to Gloriavale's community in India, discovering New Zealand women "trapped" without access to passports and children without birth certificates.

Alarming remarks about sexual assault by the community's leader Faithful Stronghold were also broadcast in a conversation captured on hidden cameras.

"What is rape? Raping happens from one side. Indian men are very forceful around women. It's part of the culture. A lot of Indian men will force themselves onto a lot of women because of a shortage of ladies in India," he was recorded as saying.

Brian Henry represented nine former Gloriavale members in two landmark Employment Court cases in which chief judge Christina Inglis ruled they were community employees, rather than volunteers.

In his December letter, he told the ministers officials had done nothing.

"They are waiting on the plaintiffs, impecunious victims through my legal team to do their job, without resource, without the government powers," he said.

Henry noted the Labour Inspectorate received advice from Crown Law concluding there was no employment relationship between Gloriavale and its members in 2021, and Crown Law had received a copy of the community's foundational document What We Believe.

"On any proper reading it is a blueprint of a sex cult, it spells out the entrapment of children, it spells out the subjugation of females; six-year-old children, little defenceless girls, it sets out the denial of education, the denial of fundamental New Zealand birthrights that keeps them subservient; enslaved to a male sexualised community," he wrote.

Henry said government social agencies were put on notice in the mid-1990s when Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian was jailed for indecent assault.

"This is not Christianity; What We Believe is the code developed by a convicted sex offender (before he was caught), a code for a sex cult carefully cloaked in Christianity," he said.

"It is incontrovertible that Gloriavale was established by a sex offender, has breed male sex offenders and continues practices of female entrapment, enslavement and sexualisation."

Women were conditioned from birth to submit to Gloriavale's leaders and "destined to be deliberately ill-educated and enslaved in unworldly ignorance", Henry said.

He praised police for bringing offenders to justice in the face of a "mafia-style code of silence" enforced by Gloriavale's Shepherds.

"The motor bike gangs would be proud of the Shepherds ability to enforce such a mafia style of 'omerta'," Henry said.

Gloriavale's Overseeing Shepherd Howard Temple is currently facing 27 charges of sexual offending against 10 girls, over a period of more than 20 years.

He has pleaded not guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault and 13 of doing an indecent act and elected a judge-alone trial.

Police are also investigating allegations of forced labour, slavery and servitude at Gloriavale.

The six women and three men found to have been employees have lodged an Employment Relations Authority claim against the Christian community for lost wages and compensation believed to total $5.2 million.

Gloriavale's bid to appeal against the Employment Court declaration that the women were employees was largely dismissed by the Court of Appeal, although it has invited submissions on whether leave should be granted on two narrow questions of law.

The cabinet mandate for the formal all-of-government response to Gloriavale came to an end last year, after being established in August 2022 to work on five key outcomes for community members.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment said agencies would continue working with Gloriavale.

Government 'enabling the system'

Gloriavale Leavers' Support Trust manager Liz Gregory said her group and others had tried to bring alert authorities for "more than a 10-year period and we're still sitting here today".

She said it was difficult for people to leave. About 30 people have left per year in the past 10 years.

"There's coercion and oppression."

It was time someone did something, she said.

"Even though there have been some attempts made, the school was still not functioning properly, they're not getting a proper education, people are not being paid, and it's just time for someone to have courage and do their job."

Gregory said there was a lot that the government could do.

"They have been enabling the system, they've still got charitable status, there's been an ongoing investigation after two or three failed attempts from our group to get them deregistered.

"Why have they got a school in the middle of a group that's under investigation for slavery, servitude and forced labour? And Gloriavale likes to say 'that's all historic'. "Well I'm sorry last week isn't historic, last year isn't historic."

There was still psychological and mental abuse that had not been addressed, she said.

Gregory said leavers were often fearful and not in good health or good mental health.