Daily Mail: Yard probe into child cult

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Yard probe into child cult

The Daily Mail/1993-09-03

By Peter Burden and Beatrice Goyoaga

SCOTLAND YARD has been conducting a secret investigation into the 'free love' Children of God cult, it was revealed last night. The news came as police in Argentina freed 300 children, including at least one Briton, in a series of raids.

More than 30 adult sect members were arrested and 12 have been charged with racketeering, corruption, kidnapping and child abuse. Argentine reports said some of the children showed signs of sexual abuse and may have been involved in Satanic rituals.

Police also found explicit books advocating incest and child sex. The material is similar to publications and videos seized by British detectives in the year-long undercover inquiry into the sect, now known as The Family.

The cult, which has a base in Leicestershire, was founded in California 25 years ago. It became notorious in the 1970s for the recruitment technique its leader David Berg called 'flirty fishing'.

He urged his female followers - dubbed the Hookers For Jesus - to sleep with men to encourage them to join the cult and boost its income. The spread of AIDS ended 'flirty fishing' but the cult has continued to advocate total sexual freedom. It has been at the centre of worldwide inquiries into child sex abuse, prostitution and Satanic rituals.

In Britain, a huge dossier on its activities has been prepared for Scotland Yard Commissioner Paul Condon by detectives of the obscene publications department, part of the international and organised crime branch.

The inquiry was ordered by Detective Superintendent Michael Hames, head of the department, following police raids on the sect's premises in several countries. Detectives also had information - including videos containing explicit sexual scenes - provided by British parents whose children are still members of the sect, and by former cult members living in Britain.

One typical example is a picture captioned 'God's gift of love' which shows a naked girl performing a sexual act on a chained and naked young man who is labelled 'The rejecting sinner'.

Detectives will now liaise with the Department of Health, the social services, the education department and the Crown Prosecution Service. A conference is expected to follow at which a decision will be taken on the next moves against the cult in Britain. Detectives are waiting for the go-ahead to visit a number of premises occupied by sect 'families'. They are believed to house between 200 and 300 adults and children.

One of the cult's bases is a 600-year-old manor - complete with croquet lawn - near Lutterworth, Leicestershire. Like other properties it is rented. The Family regularly moves bases, making monitoring difficult. The sect arrived in Leicestershire only a few weeks ago. Members recently left a house in North London.

Among concerns voiced by parents whose children are in the sect is that the youngsters do not attend outside schools - they are educated by cult members 'in house'. Parents also question the type of medical attention available.

Last night Scotland Yard was in contact with the Argentine police via Interpol, to confirm British involvement. The seven raids in and around Buenos Aires followed a complaint to a court by Ruth Frouman, an American former member of the cult. She said the group was refusing to return her four children, aged 20, 17, 15 and 12.

Court secretary Jose Sica said the children found at the cult homes appeared to be in good health but psychological tests were being carried out. Results are expected to be known during the weekend. He said some of the children had been identified as being sought by parents in various parts of the world.

The Argentine operation was the latest in a series against the cult. In France last June, 132 children - some British - were taken into local authority care. Some 47 adults were arrested in a carefully-planned raid that followed a two-year inquiry.

But French police were unable to find concrete evidence of sexual abuse or prostitution of minors and all but a handful of charges have been dropped. The children are now back with their parents and resuming life in the communes. Last year 120 children were taken into care in Australia and in 1990 ten group members suspected of perverting children were arrested in Spain.

Ex-members say the reason British followers are apparently living in communes as far apart as France and Argentina is because the cult encourages them to move abroad.

The sect claims it is the target of a conspiracy by a small group of disgruntled ex-members.