Pitcairners stay free till British hearing

By Kathy Marks

The six Pitcairn Islanders found guilty of child sex crimes lost their bid to have the verdicts overturned yesterday, but will not serve their sentences in the foreseeable future.

The Pitcairn Supreme Court dismissed their argument that the legal process culminating in last October's high-profile trials on the Pacific island was unfair. However, it also rejected a Crown application for bail to be withdrawn from four men given jail sentences for raping and abusing girls in the tiny British overseas territory.

The ruling was relayed by video-link to the island, where Pitcairners had gathered in the wooden courthouse in Adamstown. The six men, wearing shorts and T-shirts, slouched in chairs at the front of the room. One of them, Len Brown, was barefoot.

While convictions have now been formally entered, the men's fate hangs on a Privy Council appeal which will not take place until next year.

The judges, sitting in Papakura, south Auckland, said the sentences should not be executed before that hearing.

The decision removes any immediate prospect of closure for the community, which remains deeply divided and traumatised by the trials. Major development projects are unfolding on Pitcairn, courtesy of an injection of British cash, but the island cannot move forward until the legal process concludes.

The six men, including former mayor Steve Christian, received sentences from community service to six years in jail. Had their challenge succeeded, the verdicts would have been nullified and prison terms avoided.

Defence lawyers argued English law was never enforced on Pitcairn and locals were not aware rape was a serious criminal offence. They also criticised the delay in bringing the cases to trial, as well as legal machinery set up to prosecute the men.

The Pitcairn public prosecutor, Simon Moore, said he was "relieved and satisfied" that the trial process that began last September was finally over.

"However, we recognise that we still have a long way to go," he said.

Darralyn Griffiths, an islander who attended court in Auckland, predicted that the men "won't be happy" about the ruling. But she added: "They feel that ... the judges are very biased."

Lawyers said it was not clear whether the trials of six other men - former Pitcairners now resident in Australia and New Zealand - would go ahead before the Privy Council hearing.

The six convicted men are Steve Christian, 53, his son, Randy, 31, Terry Young, 46, Len Brown, 79, his son Dave Brown, 50, and Dennis Christian, 50.

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