Church leader jailed for 20 years for decade of abuse

By Imran Ali -
Former church leader Brian Sanders was sentenced to 20 years' jail on sex charges when he appeared in Whangarei District Court yesterday. Photo / John Stone
Former church leader Brian Sanders was sentenced to 20 years' jail on sex charges when he appeared in Whangarei District Court yesterday. Photo / John Stone

An unrepentant former Northland church leader has been jailed for 20 years for systematically grooming and sexually abusing a dozen girls for more than a decade.

A minimum term of imprisonment of 10 years was imposed on Brian Sanders, aged 68, when he appeared for sentencing in the Whangarei District Court yesterday after a jury earlier found him guilty on 33 charges.

They were 13 charges of indecently assaulting girls, 12 of sexual conduct of a child under 12, four of indecent assault, two of rape, and two of sexual conduct with a young person under 16.

The first lot of offending occurred between 1998 and end of 2006 when he was president of the Bream Bay branch of the Latter Day Saints Church.

The second lot was between 2006 and 2013 when he helped his wife run an after-school programme in the Far North.

Sanders supplied the girls he abused cigarettes, alcohol, chocolates, lollies, clothing, mobile phone credits, and money in exchange for his sexual gratification and their silence.

The youngest victim was 6 years old and the oldest 16. One girl was only 12 years old when she was raped.

Some of his victims, flanked by family and friends, read their victim impact statements in court where they graphically demonstrated the harm Sanders' offending has had on their lives.

All spoke about a lack of trust in anyone, some resorting to drugs and alcohol, feeling insecure and unable to cope with people - especially strangers.

Sanders looked directly at his victims when they spoke and later fixed his eyes on Judge Duncan Harvey when the sentencing remarks were being made.

One of his victims lashed out at Sanders by asking: "Why you looking so surprised?" and called him an ass**** when the victim impact statements were being read.

The victims wished Sanders would be jailed for a long time so he could not reoffend against other vulnerable children.

"We've all been given life sentences, so should he," said the mother of one of the victims.

Judge Harvey said Sanders was a paedophile whose position that the girls all lied and conspired against him at trial was "preposterous".

"They were vulnerable and you seized upon that vulnerability in a sick and perverted way. For one or two girls, you literally ruined their childhood.

"Your position allowed you to not only abuse the children but to do so on a regular basis," Judge Harvey said.

He said unless Sanders was prepared to undergo extensive rehabilitation, it would be dangerous to release him from prison.

As the final sentence was handed down, some of the victims and their supporters exclaimed "yes" before Sanders was led away.

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