20 Mar 2023

Crown knew details of Hopeful Christian's crimes in mid-90s - lawyer

8:07 pm on 20 March 2023
Hopeful Christian

Hopeful Christian died of cancer in 2018 at the age of 92. Photo: Greymouth Star

This story contains graphic details of sexual abuse

The Crown had detailed knowledge of Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian's crimes in the mid-1990s but "dropped the ball" by failing to help the community deal with sexual abuse, the Employment Court has heard.

Two Court of Appeal judgments tendered in a case brought by six former Gloriavale women describe how Christian was said to have used his dominance to sexually exploit young followers and had no capacity to accept responsibility for his offending and reform.

Christian - formerly known as Neville Cooper - was sentenced to five years in prison in December 1995, on three charges of indecent assault for inserting a wooden dildo inside a 19-year-old woman over three successive days.

He was initially sentenced to six years in prison after being convicted of 10 counts of indecent assault against five young complainants in the 1980s but won an appeal against his conviction and sentence.

The Crown decided only to proceed on the three indecent assault charges, on which Christian was convicted in a second jury trial.

He lost another appeal against his five-year sentence in 1996.

The women's barrister Brian Henry questioned Gloriavale Shepherd Samuel Valor about the Crown's response to the Court of Appeal judgments, given it knew about Christian's propensity for sexual offending in the 1990s.

"What I'm putting to you is that the Crown dropped the ball because the Crown knew the nature of the man who has come in as the Overseeing Shepherd, the Crown knew he was dominant and the Crown knew he was going to carry on in the isolated community without changing, because that's what the judges said, that's correct isn't it?" Henry asked.

"That would be a reasonable thing to think," Valor replied.

"And it's reasonable to think that the Crown let you down isn't it? In 1996 Crown support could have changed everything," Henry asserted.

"It may have, but we are still responsible for what happened. You can't just lump it onto someone else," Valor said.

Valor conceded there was no way Hopeful Christian should have been allowed to continue as Gloriavale's Overseeing Shepherd, given his terrible record.

(Left to right) Samuel Valor at Gloriavale, barrister Brian Henry and chief judge Christina Inglis.

(Left to right) Samuel Valor at Gloriavale, barrister Brian Henry and chief judge Christina Inglis. Photo: RNZ / Jean Edwards

The first Court of Appeal judgment in May 1995 details Crown allegations Christian used his "position of power and dominion in the community over his young charges by the subterfuge of relief of tension, or preparation for life or marriage, to achieve his own sexual purposes".

"There was ample evidence demonstrating his dominance over the lives of these young people, who were largely isolated from the outside world in this self-contained community," the judgment said.

The second Court of Appeal judgment in May 1996 notes the community was run under "very strict conditions with the appellant maintaining a high level of control over other members. It is clear that he was in a position of power and of trust. There was a rigorous code of conduct for interpersonal relations including many unorthodox tenets".

The judgment describes how Hopeful Christian allowed the complainant to resume her married life after temporarily living outside of the community.

"After being summoned to the appellant's room the complainant was told she would be prepared for intercourse with her husband. With his wife present the appellant then sexually violated her with a wooden dildo. This occurred on three successive days," the judgment said.

The pre-sentence report stated Christian at all times denied committing any offence.

"He maintained that the complainant had suffered difficulties in intercourse and was encouraged to use a wooden phallus on herself as a form of therapy. There were no signs that the appellant had the capacity to accept responsibility for his offending and to reform," the judgment said.

The court agreed it would be difficult to imagine a more serious example of indecent assault, emphasising the acts involved a gross invasion of the woman's body - cruel, degrading and humiliating treatment accompanied by pain, physical injury and the risk of psychological harm.

Samuel Valor said he knew about allegations of sexual misconduct against Hopeful Christian in the 1990s but only discovered the real situation when two documents containing sentencing remarks were tendered in the Employment Court case.

The women who have brought the case claim they were exploited and treated like slaves, and are seeking a ruling they were Gloriavale employees, rather than volunteers.

Valor, who is a father of 13, earlier told the court the community's leaders had publicly apologised for failing to prevent past wrongs and recognised change was needed.

"There has recently been a large amount of scrutiny and criticism of the community, our way of life, and the personal experiences of some former community members," he said.

"Some of this criticism is fair and deserved. Although we choose to live separately, we are New Zealand citizens. Our intention is and always has been to comply with the law and ensure the safety and well-being of those who live in Gloriavale, while adhering to our Christian beliefs.

"No one should be subject to harm or abuse and I and the other leaders are deeply saddened that some members and former members of our community have experienced harm while living in the community. This is not what we want for our families and not what we teach."

Valor said Gloriavale had received a lot of support from external agencies, who had helped the community make significant and far-reaching changes.

"We want a safe and secure community for our families," he said.

"The culture at Gloriavale will probably evolve too fast for some and not fast enough for others. That is a difficult line for leaders and parents to walk.

"The challenge for the leaders and the parents is to guide these changes in our culture without losing the concept of a sharing Christian community, which we hold dear."

Valor said Gloriavale's Christian Partners, who work for the community's businesses run by the Christian Church Community Trust, were supposed to be treated equally.

"An employer/employee relationship is fundamentally at odds with our Christian principles and beliefs, as by design it sets up a difference in status and reward between employer/employees," he said.

"In the partnership, everyone gets an equal share. Our aim and desire has been that everyone share equally and Christian Partners was designed to give equality among the Brethren."

Where to get help:

NZ Police

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

Rape Prevention Education

Empowerment Trust

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): 04 801 6655 - push 0 at the menu

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334

Male Survivors Aotearoa

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) 022 344 0496

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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