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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 September, 2004, 07:57 GMT 08:57 UK
Pitcairn mayor denies rape charge
Pitcairn Mayor Steve Christian
Steve Christian is alleged to have committed the crimes decades ago
The mayor of the tiny UK Pacific colony of Pitcairn has pleaded not guilty to sex abuse charges, reports say.

Steve Christian was the first of seven men to appear in a trial which has highlighted claims of underage sex.

One witness reportedly wept as she told the trial, via video link from New Zealand, that as a young girl she was raped by Mr Christian four times.

The group, which makes up half the island's adult male population, faces 55 charges of rape or indecent assault.

New Zealand prosecutors say there is an ingrained culture of having sex with underage children on Pitcairn, famous for its link to the Mutiny on the Bounty in 1789.

Local women have argued the practice is an island tradition and consensual, saying some of the alleged victims of abuse had been coerced into testifying.

The alleged victims are all now off the island and will testify by video link from New Zealand.

Challenging Britain's authority

On Wednesday public prosecutor Simon Moore said Mr Christian, 53, committed the crimes between the ages of 13 and 24.

"There was no question of consent. Steve Christian was exercising a right he believed was his," media reports quoted Mr Moore as saying.

The first prosecution witness described how as an 11 or 12-year-old girl she was taunted on the island for being a "half-caste" and that she had been targeted and raped by Steve Christian on four occasions.

She said she was held down by the defendant and two other men in the first attack.

There was no one she or her parents could turn to on the island, she reportedly said.

Mr Christian pleaded not guilty to six charges of rape and four of indecent assault of four women, the AFP news agency quoted local media reports.

A Radio New Zealand reporter - one of only six journalists allowed on the island - said the trial opened in a community hall in Adamstown, the island's solitary settlement.

Among the accused are Len Brown, his son Dave, Jay Warren, Terry Young and Dennis Christian. The mayor's son, 30-year-old Randy, is also facing charges.

The defendants are expected to mount a defence based on a challenge to Britain's authority over the island.

They argue that although Pitcairn - as a British overseas territory - is theoretically subject to English law, consensual underage sex, involving girls aged 12 or 13, is a traditional part of island life.

Some observers have insisted that any convictions could threaten the island's future by restricting its ability to support itself.

Pitcairn has a resident population of 47, and the islanders make a living by selling handicrafts to passing boats along with fishing and subsistence farming.

'Unfair'

The charges stem from 1999 when an islander told a visiting British policewoman she had been sexually abused.

Since then, new laws including a child protection act have been enacted and police and social workers have been sent to the island.

Many of the women of Pitcairn believe that the charges against the seven are unfair.

The wives, daughters, sisters and mothers of some of the accused have spoken out to declare the men's innocence.

Bounty link

Judges, lawyers and other court staff have made the long journey from New Zealand for the trial.

The islanders are descendents of mutineers who seized control of the British navy vessel HMS Bounty in 1789.

They landed on the uninhabited island of Pitcairn a year later with a group of Polynesian men and women and remained undiscovered for almost 20 years.


SEE ALSO:
Sex abuse trials open on Pitcairn
29 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Bloody history of empire's last outpost
27 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
Pitcairn trial officials arrive
23 Sep 04  |  Asia-Pacific
A rock and a hard place
08 Sep 04  |  Magazine
Guns to be handed in on Pitcairn
11 Aug 04  |  Asia-Pacific


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