Judgment day arrives in the South Pacific

Descendants of the 'Bounty' mutineers will learn today whether claims of endemic sexual abuse are upheld

The two-way radio system used to communicate between households on Pitcairn Island crackled to life as Steve Christian, the Mayor, vented his fury about an offence of the utmost gravity: the use of the radio's public channel to sing "Happy Birthday" to Simon Moore, a New Zealand prosecutor.

The two-way radio system used to communicate between households on Pitcairn Island crackled to life as Steve Christian, the Mayor, vented his fury about an offence of the utmost gravity: the use of the radio's public channel to sing "Happy Birthday" to Simon Moore, a New Zealand prosecutor.

The strain of recent weeks has plainly taken its toll on Mr Christian, 53, who will learn today whether he has been convicted of six rapes and four indecent assaults, allegedly carried out against young girls 30 to 40 years ago.

After a month of evidence in the public hall in Adamstown, three judges imported from New Zealand will deliver their verdicts on Mr Christian and six other men, including his son, Randy. The defendants are charged with dozens of offences against children aged as young as five in the British dependent territory.

Prosecutors - who were also shipped in from New Zealand, 3,000 miles away - have painted a picture of a remote island community in which young girls were routinely raped and abused by adult men. Seven women who grew up on Pitcairn told the court, by video-link from Auckland, of childhoods blighted by repeated assaults.

One accused, Dennis Christian, has already pleaded guilty, and another, Dave Brown, has made limited admissions. The rest will find out today whether their attempts to challenge the credibility of the alleged victims were successful. Any sentences will be pronounced next Thursday. The radio incident took place amid rising tensions ahead of the verdicts. A Kent police constable, Max Davidson, used the frequency reserved for public announcements such as shipping schedules to serenade Mr Moore, the Pitcairn public prosecutor.

An irate Steve Christian leapt on to the radio, and ordered his sister, Brenda, the local police officer, to investigate the incident.

British diplomats stationed on the island were forced to intervene, thus averting the intriguing scenario of Mrs Christian arresting her superior in the policing hierarchy. The trials are nearing their conclusion more than four years after Kent police began an investigation that uncovered widespread claims of child sex abuse on Pitcairn. The inquiry was triggered by a single complaint by a local girl, whose mother reported it to a visiting Kent officer, Gail Cox. Mr Christian, an influential figure since his teens, allegedly took it upon himself to sexually initiate girls at the age of 12 or 13. His son, Randy, is charged with raping a 10-year-old girl in the mid-1990s, a generation later.

As judgment day approached in a case that has devastated the tiny community founded by Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers, daily life continued as if nothing was amiss.

On Thursday, locals welcomed 100 Americans from a cruise ship which stopped off at Pitcairn for the day, en route to Tahiti. Islanders ferried the tourists around the dirt roads on their quad bikes, while Steve Christian hosted a fish and chip lunch at his family home. There is no immediate prospect of closure for a tiny community that has lived in the international limelight for weeks. If any of the men are convicted and given jail sentences, they will remain free on bail until two legal challenges to the court's authority have been heard. Defence lawyers will go to Auckland next February to argue that British law was never promulgated on the South Pacific island, and locals were thus not aware that they could be prosecuted under laws such as the Sexual Offences Act of 1956.

And later next year, the Privy Council in London will rule on whether Britain actually has sovereignty over Pitcairn. Lawyers argue that it was settled not by British subjects but by "rebels and traitors". If they convince the Privy Council, the trials will be declared null and void.

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