Pitcairn fears for future of community

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The Independent Online

Another day, another defendant and another set of harrowing allegations of child rape and sex abuse in Britain's most remote territory. In the dilapidated hall that is Pitcairn Supreme Court, the ceiling fans whir slowly. The carpet is coated in mud after three days of torrential rain. The wooden benches in the public gallery are empty.

Another day, another defendant and another set of harrowing allegations of child rape and sex abuse in Britain's most remote territory. In the dilapidated hall that is Pitcairn Supreme Court, the ceiling fans whir slowly. The carpet is coated in mud after three days of torrential rain. The wooden benches in the public gallery are empty.

The 47 residents of the tiny South Pacific island have shunned the court since seven of their men went on trial 10 days ago. The women are not there to offer support to husbands, fathers and sons. Parents are absent when daughters appear on the video-link from New Zealand, testifying to horrific experiences in their childhood.

Pitcairners would prefer not to know what their menfolk have allegedly been getting up to for the past 40 years, and possibly longer. For one thing, it is too close to home; every family has a defendant or an alleged victim - often both - in its household. But, more importantly, ignorance is crucial if this community is to survive beyond the trials.

"It's better for me not to know who's charged with what, so that I can still look them in the face as mates," one islander said. "We still have to work together to keep this place going."

While collective denial may bring comfort, deep wounds are painfully evident beneath the surface. The question is whether this embittered and fractured community has a future after the judges and lawyers go back to New Zealand. Many of the island's leading figures may be in jail by next month. They include Steve Christian, the Mayor, who wields supreme power, as well as his son, Randy, and a former magistrate, Jay Warren.

Some residents fear that, without their manpower and guidance, island life will grind to a halt. There will not be enough men, they say, to crew the longboats that ferry in goods from supply ships, as well as the cruise liner passengers whose American dollars represent a sizeable portion of their income.

Communal works, such as cutting firewood, will become unfeasible, pessimists say. Some are planning to move to New Zealand. Elderly women dependent on sons who live with them are worried sick. Others believe a new community will rise, led by people hitherto excluded from the power base. These "outsiders", some of them born outside Pitcairn, have found it hard to use their skills or find jobs because they lack the right family connections.

"We may not be able to go out to every ship," said one. "But we'll get by." Another predicted that islanders who had moved overseas might return, "now that Pitcairn is a safe place to bring up your kids".

The British Government administers Pitcairn through a New Zealand-based governor. It is planning investment that includes upgrading infrastructure and attracting eco-tourists. Matthew Forbes, the Deputy Governor, said: "I believe there'll be a new beginning for the island."

Pawl Warren, who was born on the island and moved back in the 1990s, is also optimistic. He said: "I love this place, it's magical, it's a magnet in the middle of nowhere. I would like to think that the magic will still be here, even after all that has happened."

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