'Reformed' Sex Cult Can Keep Children
Alarm over verdict that ends grandmothers four-year battle
The Daily Mail/1995-11-25
By Peter Burden and Paul Harris
A GRANDMOTHER'S four-year fight against the notorious Children of God cult ended yesterday with a High Court judge ruling that her daughter's children could stay with the sect, despite its appalling history of sexual depravity.
Lord Justice Ward praised the 58-year-old woman for exposing the evil practices of the cult, founded by paedophile and pornographer David Berg.
But the judge said the sect, now called The Family, had changed its ways and her three-year-old grandson and his baby brother could be brought up within it.
He stressed that the older boy - 'a delightful, happy child' - had never been abused or ill-treated and his mother had made sure he was not exposed to any sexual activity.
Lord Justice Ward admitted that his approach was "unorthodox, even risky."
His report said that at one stage, after a 75-day court hearing last year, he had believed the risk of harm to the boy was "significant enough to dictate that he be removed from his mother."
But the mother and the cult had promised to renounce the perverted teachings of Berg, who is said to have died last year, and they would be monitored regularly. The older child - both are the result of a relationship with a married man - will remain a ward of court.
The ruling was greeted with alarm by investigators into the cult, which first became notorious through Berg's orders to women disciples to use sex to win converts. They were called 'Hookers for Jesus' and the practice was known as 'flirty fishing'.
A three-year undercover investigation by Scotland Yard discovered that Berg headed a world-wide network of groups producing pornographic videos.
Sexuality in children was encouraged virtually from babyhood, as was sex between children and between children and adults.
Such practices, said the judge, robbed many children of their precious innocence. "It defiled them. It was abusive. It was deplorable."
But Lord Justice Ward said times had changed and the worst excesses of Berg's corrupt teachings had now been purged.
Ian Haworth, general secretary of the Cult Information Centre, said last night: "Unlike the judge I don't think the group has changed as much as he might have been led to believe."
"I'm afraid this is something I've heard too many times before. It's very convenient for a cult to say: 'Our leader's dead and all that's behind us now, and besides, we've changed our name'."
Former Detective Superintendent Mike Hames, who headed the Yard's Obscene Publications Squad and is a leading authorities on fighting child sex abuse, said: "Berg was responsible for evil teachings and preached child sex as part of his 'Law of Love'."
"There is no doubt that children have been harmed by widespread abuse. In the past the cult was very closed and we were unable to establish how many communes there were and their activities. If they have now changed, perhaps they will tell us these details."
Scotland Yard and the FBI both say they have no proof that Berg is dead.
Rachel Scott, representing The Family, hailed the ruling as "a victory for the right of a parent to bring up a child according to their religious convictions."
She said the majority of the events on which the judge had made negative findings happened a long time ago in other countries, and many allegations made against The Family had been discounted or disproved in criminal cases elsewhere.
"We hope those who have sought to vilify and abuse us will abandon their campaign. We sincerely extend the hand of reconciliation and call upon them to enter into dialogue with us," she said.
The Family, which describes itself as a fellowship of independent Christian missionary communities, has an estimated 18,000 members worldwide, including some 1,000 British children.
Senior Government Ministers are to study both the judgment and the confidential police file on The Family to decide whether new legislation is needed to crack down on perverted sects.