Child's Play - Judge Rules Sect Raid Trespass
By Amanda Keenan
A series of dawn raids, in which 72 children were seized from a religious sect, were carried out illegally because the police officer named on the search warrants never left the police station, a judge ruled yesterday.
The NSW Department of Community Services workers and police officers were trespassing when they took the children from their homes in north-western Sydney on May 15, 1992, said Justice John Dunford in the NSW Supreme Court.
Justice Dunford said Sergeant Gregory Sullivan was named on the search warrants but DOCS workers and other police officers were sent to execute 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.
Yesterday's decision was an important step in the civil case brought by more than 50 of the children against the State of NSW. They are suing for psychological damage, claiming they were wrongfully arrested, falsely imprisoned and trespassed upon.
Paul Hartingdon, from The Family - formerly known as Children of God - hailed yesterday's win as a step towards damages payouts for the youngsters he says were victims of religious persecution.
"A small Christian group like ourselves has been attacked, we think, unfairly," he said.
The warrants had been sought following allegations that child members of Christian fundamentalist group The Family had been, or were in danger of being, sexually or physically abused.
The Family has persistently denied those claims.
Outside court, Mr Hartingdon's son, Stephen, 16, said he and his brothers and sisters were put on buses and told by friends of their parents they were going on a three-day holiday. Instead, he said, they were taken to DOCS homes. "It was pretty awful."
The Family's solicitor, Greg Walsh, called on Attorney General Jeff Shaw to bring an end to the bitter ongoing legal wrangle.
He said the State of NSW was maintaining that it had a duty to take the children as a matter of public policy.