A former Gloriavale member says leaders in the secretive West Coast community are "side-stepping" allegations of forced marriage and controlling behaviour.

The former member said he felt disappointed an 18-month investigation by Charity Services into the Christian Church Community Trust, which governs Gloriavale, didn't hold the community accountable for its behaviour.

The probe began in April 2015 after media reports about an increase in people leaving Gloriavale and allegations of sexual and physical abuse, the Newsroom website reported.

The investigation team worked with trustees, 18 community leavers and liaised with various government departments including the police who were already investigating the community over sexual abuse allegations.


The resulting report concluded that despite evidence of serious wrongdoing, the Christian Church Community Trust should not be issued with a warning notice but instead work with Charities Services to bring it up to standard.

One of those community leavers spoke to the Herald about the findings on the condition he not be named so as not to compromise further work he was doing with the investigation team.

"I think that is a bit weak really," he said of the decision not to remove Gloriavale's charity status.

"I was a bit disappointed with that result, not that I want to see their charity status necessarily removed but the point of us saying anything in the first place was for them to be charitable.

"They've got a charitable trust but they're not being charitable."

He said he wanted Gloriavale leaders to be held to account over allegations which included:

• Five of the 18 Gloriavale leavers claiming they were victims of sex crimes

• Claims of unfair work conditions, including working excessive hours

• Senior Gloriavale members acting illegally in operating bank accounts of members without their knowledge

• Members being forced into an isolated hut as punishment

• Those who leave not being provided means to support themselves or to transition to life outside and being unable to maintain contact with members still inside.

A Gloriavale leader said the 18 recommendations Charity Services gave the community had been followed.

However the former community member said claims issues had either been dealt with or never happened were not true.

"They've side-stepped it, I mean some of the stuff that Gloriavale has said now they're putting in place or they've already had in place, if they're not doing it properly it's pretty hard to prove."

Members from the community sort out the washing. An image from TVNZ documentary Gloriavale. Photo/File
Members from the community sort out the washing. An image from TVNZ documentary Gloriavale. Photo/File

Gloriavale trust board head Fervent Stedfast earlier told the Herald claims forced marriages occurred in Gloriavale weren't true.

"There was no forced marriage. There was no such thing as a forced marriage. No one has ever been forced to marry anybody.

"No one gets married unless they come and ask to be married, no one's told to be married."

The report stated that "no one was forced to get married if they do not wish to get married".

But the community leaver said this was not the case.

"Gloriavale's said 'we've never forced anyone to get married' - that's not true. We were there, we know what happened."

However he said unless the people who had been forced to marry made a statement it was hard to make the allegations stick.

The same issue presented itself when it came to financial control.

"The problem is a lot of people there, in a way they're happy to let the leaders there take control of [their finances] so it doesn't really mean anything when you tell them they can have someone present because they're scared of outside people," he said.

Read the report in full:

When it came to keeping the community's charitable status, the man said Gloriavale's leaders were careful trustees who were not caught doing wrong.

"If someone's done something wrong, you can't really hold the trust accountable for someone who lives there," he said.

"Unless there's an actual trustee that can be nailed, they'll probably use lawyers to get around it all.

"It's all set up quite craftily."

He said he could not comment on whether a sexual predator was currently in the community, but said during his time at Gloriavale there had been several.

"When there's anything like that, they find out about it, they do try and smother it quite a bit and I think the reason for that is because of Hopeful and the nature of his going to prison."

Hopeful Christian, who founded the community, was jailed after he was found guilty of three charges of sexual abuse of young community members at his second trial 20 years ago.

Massey University religion expert Peter Lineham said there were hints in the Charity Services' report of a sexual predator at Gloriavale, but Stedfast labelled claims of sexual abuse within the isolated community as "just nonsense".

"The stories are getting out of hand. There's no such thing at Gloriavale. It's not the case."

Asked whether he was satisfied claims of sexual assault were dealt with appropriately, Stedfast said: "Yes, absolutely."

"And that's not our way of life. Our way of life is purity. And there can be no people in all of this country that don't stand for purity of life as we do. We believe first of all in marriage for life. We don't have divorce and remarriage."

• This story was originally broken by the Newsroom website.