Guilty: the verdicts that shamed Pitcairn Island

<preform>Six men - one-eighth of the population of a remote British colony - were yesterday convicted of sex crimes stretching back for at least 40 years. Kathy Marks </b></i>reports from a community in shock</preform>
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The Independent Online

One by one, they stood in the dock, all large men of imposing build. Until recently, they had acted like kings, swaggering around their tiny empire. Yesterday, in a sweltering courtroom on Pitcairn Island, they were exposed as bullies, rapists and abusers of children. Five men, including the island's mayor, Steve Christian, were found guilty after one of the most extraordinary cases in British criminal history. A sixth, Dennis Christian, had already entered a guilty plea. Only one Pitcairner, Jay Warren, left court without a blemish, cleared of indecently assaulting a young girl at picturesque Bounty Bay.

One by one, they stood in the dock, all large men of imposing build. Until recently, they had acted like kings, swaggering around their tiny empire. Yesterday, in a sweltering courtroom on Pitcairn Island, they were exposed as bullies, rapists and abusers of children. Five men, including the island's mayor, Steve Christian, were found guilty after one of the most extraordinary cases in British criminal history. A sixth, Dennis Christian, had already entered a guilty plea. Only one Pitcairner, Jay Warren, left court without a blemish, cleared of indecently assaulting a young girl at picturesque Bounty Bay.

The defendants were among 31 men named as abusers by women who had grown up in the remote British dependency during the past half-century. Seven of those women testified by video link from Auckland, and the three judges - shipped in from New Zealand, along with lawyers and court officials - believed them, almost without exception.

The verdicts were a resounding affirmation for the witnesses, who resisted years of family and community pressure to withdraw their complaints. They also vindicated the work of Kent Police detectives, sent to Pitcairn in 2000 to investigate one allegation, only to uncover systematic abuse of young girls that dated back at least 40 years.

Detective Inspector Robert Vinson, the chief investigating officer, said the judgements "sent a strong message that the abuse of children is not acceptable in any culture, anywhere, and Pitcairn Island is no exception".

The verdict was the dramatic climax to a month of harrowing evidence about life on a South Pacific island romanticised for its links with the Bounty mutiny. Three generations of Pitcairn men stood in the dock, and all three generations - including Len Brown, 78 and barefoot - were found culpable.

Rivulets of sweat ran down the face of Steve Christian, the island's charismatic tribal chieftain, as Chief Justice Charles Blackie pronounced him guilty of five rapes. As a young man, Christian, now 53, assumed the right to sexually initiate girls of 12 or 13, who then became members of his personal "harem". Randy, taller than his father and broad as a rugby prop, sweated equally profusely as he too saw prison loom. He was found guilty of four rapes and five indecent assaults. Randy was the "young cub" who emulated his father - the natural heir of a family that ruled Pitcairn with an iron grip while preying on its most vulnerable inhabitants. Like father, like son. Steve Christian raped a 12-year-old girl under a banyan tree while two friends held her down. Twenty years later, Randy pinned down a 10-year-old in a banana grove so that a friend could rape her. Then they swapped places and Randy took his turn. Randy's brother, Sean, was cautioned by police in 1996 about a consensual liaison with a 12-year-old girl.

For years, Steve Christian was the face of Pitcairn, travelling the world to promote the island. After he was charged, and while still enjoying anonymity, he went to New York and addressed the UN committee on decolonisation. No one outside Pitcairn knew that, in his heyday, it was he who set the tone for men who felt they could rape young girls with impunity.

Ironically, it was his son's actions that led to the culture of endemic abuse being uncovered. Randy's principal victim told a friend, who told her mother, and the complaint ended up with Gail Cox, a Kent police constable stationed temporarily on Pitcairn in 1999. Ms Cox, the first British officer ever posted to Pitcairn, began an inquiry that turned into a massive investigation. Detectives travelled the world several times, interviewing women who had grown up on the island and now live in New Zealand, Australia, Norfolk Island and England. As they went, "we got disclosure after disclosure ... it was staggering," said one officer.

While the women's testimony suggests that few men from the past three generations are untainted, anecdotal evidence indicates the abuse began even further back. One middle-aged woman on Pitcairn claims "it was the same in my great-grandparents' day". Another recalls her father asserting that girls of 12 needed to be "broken in" - the precise phrase used to describe Steve Christian's alleged conduct a generation later. "That was the belief, and I think it's always been there," she says of her father's attitude.

When did it start? Many people believe the abuse took root in 1790, when Fletcher Christian and his men abducted a group of Tahitian women and sailed with them to Pitcairn. The early years of the community were marked by brutality and violence, as well as fights over women.

By the time an American sealer arrived 18 years later, all but one of the mutineers, John Adams, were dead. Adams was surrounded by women and children who all called him "Father". In the ensuing years, Pitcairn always had a dominant male figure. Today that man is Steve Christian.

Some believe the mutineers' mentality still prevails. With Pitcairn left to its own devices for decades by British administrators, the men were able to do as they pleased. They lived in an isolated, male-dominated society and were accountable to no one.

Asked why the six guilty men did what they did, one source replies: "Because they could. Because that's the way it was. There was a power base of influential men, and no one was going to go against them." At the centre of that power base was Steve Christian, head of a so-called "inner circle" of men who - at least until now - have run the island between them. Nothing happens without the say-so of "the boys", and they control the longboats, the umbilical cord that links Pitcairn with the outside world. All of those men have passed through the dock in Adamstown. Indeed, before a court order suppressing their identities was lifted, one observer noted that anyone curious to know their names needed only to "look in the back of the longboat".

Over the long years of abuse, the victims had no one to tell. Their assailants included magistrates and police officers, while their own male relatives were, allegedly, abusing young girls themselves. A few parents, it is said, even pushed their daughters in the direction of influential men. Some girls suffered blighted childhoods in which they were abused by half a dozen men. They could not tell, and they could not leave - at least until they went to school in New Zealand in their mid-teens. Some have never returned, and never will.

While the men abused, the women - including the mothers of some victims - colluded. And when Pitcairn's silent victims finally found a voice, thanks to Ms Cox, it was the girls who were blamed for speaking out rather than the men who abused them. One middle-aged woman calls her daughter, who was allegedly raped at 12 by a man in his 30s, a "silly idiot" for making a complaint. "She knew what she was doing," the mother says. "She wanted it as much as him."

The rapes and molestations took place in every conceivable situation. Girls were assaulted during spear-fishing trips and games of hide and seek, on quad bikes and at children's parties. Every scenic spot on Pitcairn is a crime site. Aute Valley, Garnett's Ridge, The Hollow, Hulianda - postcard-pretty places with quaint names, all defiled by men who used their superior strength and age to force themselves on girls who had barely achieved puberty.

For Steve Christian and his cronies, sex was about power. For others, such as the old men who groped little girls opportunistically, it meant fleeting gratification. And for others, the abuse stemmed, perhaps, from their frustration at the limited pool of women on a 2.5 mile-square lump of rock in the middle of the Pacific. Even family members were not immune. The court heard allegations of incest.

Small wonder that many visitors remarked on the sexual precocity of Pitcairn's children, who - according to one woman - simulated sex with each other from the age of five. But even the trend for girls to have babies from the age of 12, confirmed by historical records, did not shake British administrators out of their torpor.

One woman, now 51 and still deeply traumatised, described a nightmare childhood of repeated assaults. "That's the way it is on Pitcairn," she told the court. "You get abused, you get raped. It's a normal way of life on Pitcairn." The witnesses quashed the myth, perpetuated by relatives of the defendants, that prosecutors targeted men engaged in consensual under-age sex. They painted a picture of a dysfunctional society where men raped young girls almost casually. Many of the women had bottled up the abuse for decades, disclosing it only when approached by police.

And yesterday came the verdicts. Len Brown twice raped a teenager in a watermelon patch. Dave Brown, his 49-year-old son, carried out six indecent assaults. Terry Young, 46, raped a 12-year-old girl every week for years, assaulting her every time she went out to collect firewood. All six of the guilty men will be sentenced on Thursday, but they will remain free on bail until legal argument about the legitimacy of the trials has been heard in Auckland and London next year. Until then, their convictions will not be formally entered.

The verdicts left the fractious and bitterly divided community in shock. Few of the 47 islanders had stepped inside court to hear the evidence. None of the six men commented afterwards. Steve Christian, who cracked a joke on his way into court, departed stony-faced. Dave Brown was in tears. Despite the legal delays, it seems certain that at least three - and possibly all six - will serve sentences in the imposing new prison that all seven helped build.

The Chief Justice, Charles Blackie, poured scorn on Steve Christian's claim that his victims consented. Commenting on one girl, he said: "She was 12 years old. He was 21. She was young, naive and vulnerable. She was secreted into the bushes and there the accused took advantage of her. There had been no affection, kissing or romantic connection. She did not want it to happen." There cannot have been a single adult on the island who did not know what was allegedly going on through the years. Yet little was said, and nothing was done.

The verdicts will leave a power vacuum on Pitcairn, with both Steve Christian and Randy, who is chairman of a key island committee, under pressure to resign. Steve Christian's sister, Brenda, is planning to run for mayor in council elections next month.

While the defendants' relatives have warned that Pitcairn will collapse if so many able-bodied men are jailed, islanders unconnected with the case disagree. They say there will still be enough men to crew the longboats and carry out other communal work. They regard the trials as a necessary healing process that will enable Pitcairn to survive and move forward.

Mike Christian, an Englishman married to Brenda Christian, said: "This is a watershed. We have to make sure of that. We have to make the island safe for children."

THE GUILTY MEN

Steve Christian , the island's mayor, who claims to be a direct descendant of the 'Bounty' mutineer leader Fletcher Christian, was convicted of five rapes and cleared of four indecent assaults and one rape.

His son, Randy Christian , was convicted of four rapes and five indecent assault charges, but cleared of one rape and two indecent assaults.

Len Brown, 78 was convicted of two rapes.

His son Dave Brown, was found guilty of nine indecent assaults, but was cleared of four charges of indecent assault and two of gross indecency.

Terry Young was convicted of one rape and six indecent assaults but was cleared of one indecent assault charge.

Dennis Christian pleaded guilty at the trial to one indecent assault and two sexual assault charges.

Jay Warren the island's magistrate, was cleared of indecent assault.

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