Man, 78, on trial for Pitcairn rapes


October 3, 2004

Sydney Morning Herald

After a week of astonishing revelations, prosecutors on Friday opened the third of seven sex abuse trials on the tiny island of Pitcairn - against a man of 78.

The oldest of the seven defendants, Len Brown, was appearing in a makeshift courtroom on the remote rocky outcrop populated by descendants of the 18th-century Bounty mutineers.

Brown faces two rape charges relating to one woman. The attacks allegedly happened between 1969 and 1972.

Yesterday, Brown's son Dave appeared in court charged with abusing five victims, including one as young as five, in a string of attacks. Brown says he is not guilty of the 15 charges of indecent assault and gross indecency.

Seven of the island's 12 adult men are charged with a total of 55 sex crimes, some dating back 40 years.

The tiny speck of volcanic rock midway between New Zealand and Peru has a permanent population of just 47, but that has almost doubled this week thanks to the arrival of three judges, lawyers and media for the trials which are expected to take six weeks.

On Friday, prosecutor Christine Gordon said Dave Brown assaulted one girl in Pitcairn's Seventh Day Adventist church and another during a fishing trip along the island's rugged coast.

Ms Gordon told the court "young girls were available to him if and when he chose", TVNZ reported.

One woman told Pitcairn's court that she was five years old when Brown assaulted her as she played in the bushes.

The alleged victims of the sex abuse are all testifying via a video link from Auckland, New Zealand.

Defence lawyer Charles Cato described the trial as "an abusive process, a denial of justice and human rights", TVNZ reported. Defence lawyers have repeatedly had their applications to stop the trials rejected. They have argued that British law, under which the trials are being conducted, does not apply to Pitcairn Island.

A woman testifying on Friday said that while people thought Pitcairn was a Pacific paradise island, it was actually a "sheer hell". She said she felt completely helpless after being raped by the island's mayor, Steve Christian.

Christian, 53, who says he is a descendant of Bounty mutiny leader Fletcher Christian, has pleaded not guilty to six charges of rape and four of indecent assault on four women in 1964-75.

Some islanders say that convictions and prison sentences for the defendants will put at risk the community's ability to crew a longboat - the only way to bring vital supplies to the island from passing freight and cruise ships. Pitcairn has no airstrip or port.

The Pitcairn Islands are a group of five rocky volcanic outcrops - only the largest of which is inhabited - with a combined area of just 47 square kilometres.