Pitcairn trial hears a litany of child sex abuse

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The Independent Online

She was a young Pitcairner, a teenage girl tending watermelons in an isolated spot on the island where she grew up. Len Brown was old enough to be her father. But, so the charges go, when he decided he wanted to have sex with her, he just went straight ahead and did it.

Brown, 78, was the third of seven Pitcairners to go on trial last week, accused of a total of 55 child sex offences. He is alleged to have raped the girl twice after turning up to see her on his motorbike. His 49-year-old son, Dave, is also on trial, facing charges that include forcing the girl's five-year-old sister to give him oral sex during a birthday party outing.

The Pitcairn Supreme Court, sitting in a ramshackle weatherboard hall in the British dependent territory, was told of a litany of abuse committed against young girls in the South Pacific community founded by Fletcher Christian and the Bounty mutineers.

The prosecution painted a picture of a remote island society where men ruled the roost and treated young girls as playthings. When the two alleged rapes took place, the elder Brown was 27 years older than his victim, who had already been raped three times, the court was told, by Steve Christian, now Pitcairn's mayor.

Fletcher Pilditch, Pitcairn's assistant public prosecutor, told Justice Russell Johnson that the girl was taken by surprise when Brown arrived at the watermelon patch in an area of the island known as The Hollow. "There was some chit-chat about the garden, and then the accused said to her that he was going to 'do it'," Mr Pilditch said. "It was not a request. He was not asking her; he was telling her. She said 'what?' He said 'sex'."

Brown allegedly took the girl, now a woman of 51, to a scenic spot called Gannets Ridge, where he forced her down on the ground and raped her. A couple of days later, Brown allegedly arrived at The Hollow again and raped her for a second time. "When he had finished, he simply got up and left without a word," Mr Pilditch said.

Three generations of Pitcairners are on trial in Adamstown, the one small settlement on the island, a chunk of volcanic rock between South America and New Zealand. They include Steve Christian, a descendant of the Bounty's first mate, and his 30-year-old, son, Randy.

While the trials have exposed the island to international scrutiny for the first time, few locals are bothering to watch them. On Pitcairn, the rhythms of life continue almost uninterrupted.

On Friday, the thickly vegetated hillsides resounded to the crackle of gunfire. Christian, who is remanded on bail, was out on an expedition to shoot breadfruit down from the island's tall trees. However, he had to seek special permission to have his guns - handed in during a recent amnesty - returned, and was accompanied by a Ministry of Defence police officer.

The trials were set to resume today, with Dennis Christian, Pitcairn's 48-year-old postmaster, facing two charges of indecent assault and two of sexual assault. He will be followed by Terry Young, 45, who is charged with one rape and seven indecent assaults, one on a seven-year-old.

The case has highlighted the web of interrelations between Pitcairn's 47 inhabitants. Brown is the father-in-law of Steve Christian, the most influential man on the island. The court has heard that Christian, 53, who is charged with six rapes and four indecent assaults, has wielded authority on Pitcairn since he was a teenager.

Some insiders have speculated that the trials could lead to a shift in power on the island. People not born and bred on Pitcairn have always been excluded from the inner circle, and have not even been allowed to get a tractor licence. All that could change if some or all of the accused men are convicted and incarcerated in the newly built jail.