Parent of the Year `ran camp for cult'

FOR THE boy made good from Toxteth in Liverpool, it was a glittering achievement. There he was in Washington, meeting a smiling President Bill Clinton at Capitol Hill and picking up the prestigious US Parent of the Year award in front of the television cameras.

Barry Prendergast had been chosen from hundreds of candidates because of the home he and his wife, Naomi, had built for their 12 children in Colorado. He was, said the judges, an example for others to follow and he and his wife had "epitomised committed parenting".

Or perhaps not. Mr Prendergast, it has now emerged, is not quite the mild mannered teacher he had been portrayed to be.

What he had forgotten to mention when accepting the honour is that he was a leader of the Children of God, a cult started by the late David Berg, which has been repeatedly accused of child abuse and prostitution and whose female members work as "happy hookers for Jesus". Zach, as Mr Prendergast liked to be called, is remembered as leader of an indoctrination camp for children in Italy.

Confronted with these claims, 50-year-old Mr Prendergast returned the award. Gary Jarmin, spokesman for the National Parents Day Foundation, which organises the high-profile event, could only say: "There is nothing in the information we received on them to indicate that they were involved in anything like that."

At the Capitol Hill ceremony, Mr Prendergast had advised parents: "Anything that can enrich your relationship with each other as a family ... that's pretty much what we've been doing here." The Prendergasts offered a comprehensive service - while father and mother had organised parenting skills classes in the neighbourhood, the children had gone around as "Sound of Music- style family singers" to schools and nursing homes.

Yesterday, there was no answer at their home in Longmont, Colorado. But back in Merseyside, Mr Prendergast's mother, Betty, 69, would not hear a word said against her son. "Never in a million years would he be involved in anything like that. Maybe because he was in the Children of God made him give back the award rather than have any trouble.

"I think he is the victim of a slur. It was a shock hearing he had won the award in the first place and I was very proud, now I am just disappointed. He is the father of all those children and a very happily married man."

Mrs Prendergast said she knew little about the cult. "I remember some people being thrown out of the organisation. That was in the Seventies and Eighties, but I don't really know anything about it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own