By KATHY MARKS



PITCAIRN ISLAND - Steve Christian, Pitcairn Island Mayor and a descendant of Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian, went on trial yesterday charged with raping and abusing children, after being stripped of the anonymity that has protected him for 18 months.



The 53-year-old was the first of seven Pitcairners to go to court charged with sexual offences against girls in the tiny, isolated community founded by his ancestor and eight other mutineers.



Christian, the most powerful man on the island, has been outspoken in his attacks on the British-instigated prosecution - but he never divulged his own involvement in the case.

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Prosecutors alleged yesterday that he was one of "a significant number" of men who had serially abused girls as young as 5.



One of his alleged victims claimed there was a culture of sexual abuse on the island when she grew up there in the 1960s.



The woman, now 51 and living overseas, told the Pitcairn Supreme Court she was raped by Christian three times when she was 11 or 12.



She kept it to herself for decades, she said, "out of guilt, out of shame, out of nobody would believe me".



She said: "It just seemed to be the normal way of life back on Pitcairn, how the girls are treated, as though they are a sex thing.



"Men could do what they want with them. They seem to be a rule unto themselves."



Christian, said to be charming, clever and charismatic, has wielded authority on the island - population 47 - since he was a teenager.



"He was the leader and central figure in this small community," said the Pitcairn public prosecutor, Simon Moore.



Christian is widely respected as the island's supervising engineer, dentist, radiographer and a former magistrate. Most crucially, he is coxswain of the longboat, an umbilical cord connecting Pitcairn with the outside world.



His alleged victim told the court that the first rape took place while she was walking to a scenic spot with a group of youngsters.



Christian grabbed her and forced her to the ground, she said, and raped her while two of his friends held her down.



"He then said to the other two, 'It's your turn if you want'.



"They were laughing and said 'no'. They all ran off to catch up with the others and left me there."



The trial before three New Zealand judges in the ramshackle wooden courthouse in Adamstown, Pitcairn's only settlement, has highlighted the intertwining of relationships on the island.



Christian's sister Brenda sat beside him in her capacity as Pitcairn's police officer.



Christian sat straight-backed as his alleged victim recounted a litany of abuse.



He has pleaded not guilty to all charges, although he has admitted to having consensual sex with two underage girls.



Christian's alleged victim testified via video-link from Auckland, a system adopted to avoid subjecting complainants to the long and difficult trip to Pitcairn.



The woman told the court of a miserable childhood on the island, where she was bullied and taunted as a "half-caste" and "outsider" because she had blue eyes and fair skin. Christian, "the leader of the pack", was her chief tormentor, she said.



The woman described a background of family violence that, she said, made her meekly comply when Christian ordered her to jump on his motorbike and drove her to a shed where he raped her for the second time on a bed of banana leaves.



He dropped her back at the village, telling her: "Don't say anything. Nobody is going to believe you."



The witness broke down as she recounted how her father beat her with a razor strop because the incident made her late for church.



She was raped a third time after Christian took her off again on his motorbike. Asked whether she resisted, she replied: "What's the point? Just let him get on with it. He's going to do it anyway."



Under cross-examination by Paul Dacre, the Pitcairn public defender, she said there was no one on the island to whom she could turn.



"Whatever happens to you on Pitcairn, you carry on as if nothing has happened. That's the way it is."



The defendants


* Steve Christian, charged with a total of six rapes and four indecent assaults committed between 1964 and 1975.



* Christian's 30-year-old son, Randy.



* Len Brown, 78, Steve Christian's father-in-law.



* Brown's son, Dave, 49.



* Postmaster Dennis Christian, 48.



* Terry Young, 45, who is descended from HMS Bounty midshipman Edward Young.



* Jay Warren, 48, a former magistrate.