Island chief raped me when I was 11, Pitcairn trial told

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The Independent Online

His name is Steve Christian, and he is the mayor of Pitcairn Island and a descendant of Fletcher Christian, the Bounty's first mate. Yesterday he went on trial accused of raping and abusing children, after being stripped of the cloak of anonymity that has protected him for 18 months.

Mr Christian, 53, was the first of seven Pitcairners to go to court charged with sexual offences against girls in the tiny, isolated community founded by his ancestor and the other mutineers. The most powerful man on the island, he has been outspoken in his attacks on the British-instigated prosecution ­ but he never divulged his own involvement in the case.

Prosecutors alleged yesterday that he was one of "a significant number" of men who had serially abused under-age girls in Britain's furthest-flung dependent territory. Some of the alleged victims had barely entered puberty, while others were as young as five.

Mr Christian, said to be charming, clever and charismatic, has wielded authority on the semi-tropical island ­ which has a population of just 47 ­ since he was a teenager. "He was the leader and central figure in this small community," said the Pitcairn public prosecutor, Simon Moore. "He was a prominent and influential figure within his peer group."

Mr Christian is widely respected because he possesses all the skills essential for the survival of the struggling community marooned in the middle of the South Pacific. He is Pitcairn's supervising engineer, dentist, radiographer and a former magistrate. Most crucially, he captains the longboat, an umbilical cord connecting the island with the outside world.

But the island's tribal chieftain was a man whose personal magnetism allegedly concealed dark secrets.

One of his alleged victims, now 51 and living overseas, told the Pitcairn Supreme Court yesterday that she was raped by him three times when she was 11 or 12.

On the first occasion, she said, she was walking to a scenic spot with a group of youngsters when Mr Christian grabbed her and forced her to the ground. He then raped her under some banyan trees while two of his teenage friends held her down. "He then said to the other two: 'It's your turn if you want'," she said.

"They were laughing and said 'no'. They all ran off to catch up with the others and left me there." The trial in the ramshackle wooden courthouse in Adamstown, Pitcairn's only settlement, opened after the court lifted a suppression order that has shielded the defendants' identities.

The power dynamics in a community that has been romanticised because of its colourful history but was, allegedly, more like a dysfunctional family, can now be revealed. So can the excruciatingly intimate connections between the protagonists in a scandal that has touched every individual on the island and threatens its very future.

The intertwining of relationships was emphasised in court, where Mr Christian's sister, Brenda, sat beside him in the public gallery in her capacity as Pitcairn's police officer. Mr Christian, who is charged with six rapes and four indecent assaults between 1964 and 1975, sat straight-backed as his alleged victim recounted a litany of abuse.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, although he has admitted to having consensual sex with two under-age girls.

Mr Christian's 30-year-old son, Randy, is one of the other defendants. So is his father-in-law, Len Brown, 78, together with Mr Brown's son, Dave, 49. Postmaster Dennis Christian, 48, is also charged, as are Terry Young, 45, who is descended from British midshipman Edward Young, and Jay Warren, 48, a former magistrate.

While British justice has arrived on Pitcairn in the shape of three judges shipped in from New Zealand, it was plain yesterday that this was no ordinary trial. The courtroom was a public hall with peeling walls and no dock. The defendant wore flip-flops and a T-shirt with an HMS Bounty logo. Just before proceedings opened, one islander walked over and gave him a warm hug.

Mr Christian's alleged victim testified via video-link from the Auckland in New Zealand, a system adopted to avoid subjecting complainants to the long and difficult trip to Pitcairn. The 12 alleged victims now live in New Zealand, Australia and Britain.

The woman told the court of a miserable childhood on Pitcairn, where she was bullied and taunted as a "half-caste" and "outsider" because she had blue eyes and fair skin. Her brothers, who looked more Polynesian, had an easier time of it. Mr Christian, whom she called "the leader of the pack", was her chief tormentor, she said.

The woman described a background of family violence that, she said, made her meekly comply when Mr Christian ordered her to jump on his quad-bike and then drove her to a shed where he raped her for the second time on a bed of banana leaves. Afterwards he dropped her back at the village, telling her: "Don't say anything. Nobody is going to believe you."

The witness broke down as she recounted how her father beat her with a razor stop because the alleged rape had made her late for church. She was then raped for a third time after Mr Christian took her off again on his quad-bike. Asked whether she resisted, she replied: "What's the point? Just let him get on with it. He's going to do it anyway."

In the claustrophobically intimate community where no one lives more than a few hundred yards from each other, she could not avoid seeing Mr Christian. After the first rape, she said, she bumped into him and his two friends, and "it was as though nothing had happened ­ they just carried on as normal".

The case has divided islanders, some of whom claim that Pitcairn has a tradition of consensual under-age sex. One local woman said she had been ignored by fellow islanders and called a "Pommy-lover" because she had failed to offer vociferous support for the men standing trial.