Raids to take sect children illegal - judge
By Margaret Scheikowski
Police and welfare officers acted illegally when they removed 72 children from their families in a dawn raid on Sydney homes belonging to the religious sect The Family, a judge found yesterday.
Justice John Dunford found that the search warrants were invalidly executed because the police officer named on them was not present at the raids.
"Being in a radio control room in touch with the people who were at the premises is not in my view taking part in the execution," he said in the NSW Supreme Court.
He found that in entering the homes, searching for and removing the children, the officers were not acting under any authority conferred by the warrants, but wrongfully and contrary to law.
Fifty-seven children are suing the State, claiming they suffered psychological damage following the raids on homes belonging to the Christian fundamentalist sect The Family, formerly known as Children of God.
In May 1992, police and Community Services Department officers raided homes in Glenhaven, Kellyville and Cherrybrook in Sydney's north-west.
They alleged the children had been, or were in danger of being, sexually and physically abused - claims The Family said were unsubstantiated.
Having determined the warrant issue, the judge will next have to deal with other liability matters and damages on a date to be fixed.
Outside court, the children's solicitor Greg Walsh called on the NSW Attorney-General Jeff Shaw to settle the case.
"The case has been an extremely arduous one," he said.
"I have been a lawyer for many years and I must say this has been one of the most bitterly contested cases I have ever been involved in."
In their court action, the children claim they were held against their will thereby being illegally and unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned.
Mr Walsh said the children subsequently suffered nightmares, bed-wetting, anxiety and stress.
"To enter those premises to take the children without any lawful authority amounted to trespass to each and every one of the children who was taken," he said.
A 16-year-old boy - who was nine when the raid occurred said the children had been told they were going on a three-day holiday and that the officers were friends of their parents.