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?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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: IT Support Technician

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will work as part of a smal...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - OTE £37,000

£16000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidate will want t...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician / Helpdesk - 2nd / 3rd Line

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: IT Support Technician is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Application Developer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in the centre of Glasgow,...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada