Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Pitcairn verdict is out

Monday October 25, 08:58 PM

Six Pitcairn men found guilty

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Six of the seven Pitcairn Island men charged with raping and indecently assaulting girls as young as 12 have been found guilty by a British court on the remote South Pacific island, a British official says. The men, descendants of 18th century Bounty mutineers, had argued that under-age sex was a tradition dating back to 1790 when mutineers arrived on the island with their Tahitian women.

But their victims, now adults who testified via video from New Zealand, said they were treated as "sex things" as girls and raped at will under banyan trees or in garden sheds on Pitcairn. The men will be sentenced later this week but will not be sent to jail until 2005 at the earliest
due to legal wrangling over whether Britain has jurisdiction over the island.

"Six of the seven have been found guilty," said British High Commission spokesman Bryan Nicolson in Wellington, New Zealand. "Steve Christian, the mayor, has been found guilty of five rapes and a number of sexual assaults," Nicolson told Reuters on Monday.

Christian, 53, is a descendant of Fletcher Christian, who led the Bounty mutiny in 1789. Christian was the "leader of the pack" on the island and believed he had a right to have sex with young girls, the prosecution told the court during the trial. His 30-year-old son Randy Christian was found guilty of four rapes and five indecent assaults, said TV New Zealand in a report from Pitcairn.
Len Brown, 78, was found guilty of two rapes and his son Dave Brown was convicted of nine indecent assaults, it said. Dennis Christian, Steve Christian's cousin, was found guilty of one indecent assault charge and two sexual assaults and Terry Young was convicted of one rape and six indecent assaults. Jay Warren, Pitcairn's former magistrate, was found not guilty of indecent assault.

Pitcairn is the last British territory in the South Pacific, a dot in the ocean 2,160 km (1,300 miles) southeast of Tahiti. Pitcairn, with an area of just 5 sq km (2 sq miles), has no safe harbour, is too rocky for an airstrip, has no paved roads, no sewage treatment system and no landline telephones. Visitors must fly to an outlying Tahitian island and then travel by boat for 36 hours to get there, ending their journey in a longboat, riding the surf that crashes on to the island.

Islanders fear that the Pitcairn community, with a population of only 47, will not survive if the seven are jailed. Many of the men operate the island's only boats, which are lifelines to the outside world, ferrying in essential supplies. Britain built a makeshift court inside Pitcairn's community hall and shipped in judges, lawyers and police for the trial. The charges against the men, which date back more than 40 years, followed a report by a British policewoman stationed on the island in 1999.

The Pitcairn men are challenging Britain's right to prosecute them, arguing that British sovereignty ended when the mutineers sank the Bounty off the island in 1790. The men have been granted the right to challenge British sovereignty. They will present their case to the Privy Council, the highest court of appeal for Britain's overseas territories. The case is set down for 2005 and, if the appeal is upheld, the verdicts would be overturned. A second legal challenge will see the men's lawyers argue that, if Britain does have jurisdiction, then it never promulgated the under-age sex law. Defence lawyers say Pitcairn men did not know that rape and child molestation were illegal. That hearing will take place in a New Zealand court in February 2005.

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