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Thursday, 7 November, 2002, 11:21 GMT
Pitcairn 'threatened' by sex trial
Officials on the remote Pacific island of Pitcairn have warned their community could die if several of its men have to go to New Zealand to be tried on sex-crime charges.

An undisclosed number of islanders are facing allegations of rape and indecent assault against under-age girls after an 18-month investigation by British and New Zealand police.


We can't just leave our houses - the people here want to be witnesses, one way or another, at any trial

Mayor Steve Christian
Pitcairn's public defender, Auckland barrister Paul Dacre, told the New Zealand parliament - which is debating legislation to set up a special court - that most residents favoured holding the trial on the island.

Pitcairn - the home to descendants of sailors who staged the famous mutiny on the British warship Bounty - has just eight adult males.

Islanders say this is the minimum needed to sustain its fishing industry.

Police first began investigating Pitcairn after an alleged rape in December 1999.

Since then New Zealand media have reported a number of complaints concerning child abuse on the island, a British dependency which is home to just 46 people.

Venue difficulties

The isolation of Pitcairn has prompted calls for the trial to be held 5,000 kilometres (3,200 miles) away in New Zealand.

Pitcairn
Home to 46 residents
Lies halfway between New Zealand and Peru
Language is mix of 18th century English and Polynesian
Alcohol is still technically banned
But Mr Dacre said that while islanders saw New Zealand as a "good friend", it had never had anything to do with them.

"Any criminal trial should take place within the community," he said. "The practical effect of a trial in New Zealand would destroy that community."

Mayor Steve Christian said: "We can't just leave our houses... the people here want to be witnesses, one way or another, at any trial."

The decision on the venue will be made by British High Commissioner Richard Fell, who is also Pitcairn Island's governor.

Pitcairn prosecutor Simon Moore was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying that he was bringing charges for the rape of girls as young as seven and 10, and of indecent assault against a girl as young as three.

Island justice

If the trial is held on Pitcairn, it will only be the second for the territory.

The last was 105 years ago, when Harry Albert Christian, a descendant of mutiny leader Fletcher Christian, was hanged in Fiji after being convicted on Pitcairn of killing his wife and child.

But Mr Dacre questioned what jurisdiction the trial would be held under, since islanders believed they lived under Pitcairn law and not British law.

Pitcairn is mostly populated by descendants of the Bounty mutineers and the accompanying Polynesians, who landed on the island in 1790, a year after the mutiny.

See also:

19 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
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