Top Ten Court Moments

Top Ten Court Moments

Opinion Piece: Liz Gregory

It’s difficult to distill a 12-week hearing, that stretched across seven calendar months, into a top Ten, but I’ve given it a go!

There were many, many light-hearted moments that the whole court enjoyed together, along with some very raw moments. There were times we had to cover our faces, and shrunk down in our seats and exercise huge amounts of self-control, while other times we just simply shook our heads at what was unfolding. Court is a place where the truth has a way of showing itself. That is the beauty of court.

Disclaimer: If you’re not into blunt or light-hearted blog posts, feel free to skip over it. Humour is one way I process the darker things of life. Please note #6, #7 & #8 are not humourous and are not appropriate for youngsters, or the sensitive. They include information that was essential to be in court, and to be known inside Gloriavale, and yet may still cause concern and grief. They have not been included for gratuitous reasons, but rather an opportunity to explore narratives and plant seeds inside those who have shut down their minds and want to skip over the past. As the famous saying goes, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it“. Let’s not let that happen… again…

The opinions expressed in this post are those belonging to Liz Gregory alone. They may or may not line up with the opinions of leavers or current members, staff or Trust Board members.

1) Hopeful Christian was born in New Zealand? What?!

According to documents provided to the court, Neville Cooper and Robert Dawson, filled in a Land Purchase form in 1981 and both ticked that they were NZ citizens by birth. Yes you heard that right. These true-blue Aussies tried to pass themselves off as kiwis so they could own land. It even got signed off by their favorite law firm “Duncan Cotterill” (it seems difficult to believe they didn’t know they were Aussies. There’s just something about the accent!).

I’m pretty sure it’s the first time anyone in Gloriavale knew that! Faithful Pilgrim believed they were both Australians (as they were), and he must have been a little confused about Neville’s declaration.

Brian Henry (leavers’ lawyer) took Faithful Pilgrim through the Declaration form.

“Mr Henry said, now go to page 23 and we find the statutory declaration in respect of the transfer which is the same as what we saw before. Look at the little loose piece of paper. You can see it’s by Robert Dawson. It says,” I am one of the purchases of the above name land”. And it says “I have entered into the transaction solely on my own behalf is the person/beneficiary entitled thereunder. “  The true situation is though, is that this land has been bought on behalf of the Church Community. Correct? Faithful said I couldn’t say. Mr Henry said let’s go over the page. It talks about the transaction and that it doesn’t relate to any land of any of the classes described under the land settlement promotion it. Can you see that? Yes. And then it says “I am a New Zealand citizen and I declare so because” … and then you go down to D and it says “I am a New Zealand citizen by birth”. Do you see that here?

Faithful said I see that. Mr Henry said that he wasn’t actually a New Zealand citizen by birth was he? He was an Australian. Faithful said well I don’t know where he was born. I know he lived and he came from Australia where he was actually born I couldn’t say. I haven’t seen a birth certificate.

Now we got the same document by Neville Cooper correct? And paragraph one and two are the same as we talked about with Mr Dawson’s declaration. And we go over the page and he says that doesn’t apply because I’m a New Zealand citizen. Now, that’s not correct is it? Faithful said not to the best of my knowledge.”

I hope this early indication of straight up dishonesty has give cause for concern for some current Gloriavale members. There is no way to get around this one. No one could dream up one single good reason why this official Govt document was fraudulently filled in…. Except it was the early manifestations of a community built on deceit. I often wonder if Faithful has given another thought to that exchange in court.

2) Gloriavale’s lawyer scored an own goal

After thirty Gloriavale witnesses provided their briefs of evidence to the other side prior to the hearing, it was clear there was attempts to minimise the long hours the girls worked and their difficult working conditions. However, after one of the Leavers gave evidence and was understandably upset about her working conditions, Mr Skelton (Gloriavale’s lawyer) clearly needed to change tack, and during cross-examination he said,

“… there is no dispute at all that you or the young girls at Gloriavale had to
work hard, very, very hard on the Teams.”

Boom! Up until that point there was a huge dispute about it. Faithful Pilgrim (Shepherd) stated in his evidence,

“During the time when most of the plaintiffs were working in the kitchen I used to notice that most times when I came into the kitchen during work hours I would typically see something like four girls at a bench, maybe cutting up carrots or another vegetable; one would have their hands moving, one or more would be talking and the other two would be just listening. The point is that a big part of their time in the kitchen was spent socialising rather than working flat out the whole time. It was the same in working bees on 7th Night – Saturday, and in the sewing room.”

Ouch. That hurt. (And girls inside Gloriavale currently working long hours are hurt by this too.) But by then it was clear Faithful’s view of the world was very rosey, and thoroughly without basis. Thankfully Gloriavale’s lawyer straightened that one out.

3) Servants and Shepherd’s Red Notebooks are exposed

I suspect it would be your worst nightmare. You’ve been taken to court and certain allegations have been flung at you. You are determined not to admit you’ve done anything wrong. You line up thirty witness to counter the allegations from “bitter leavers”. You swear black and blue that the leaders don’t have ultimate authority, or power and control. You try to create distinctions between businesses, the school, families and the workplace and the decision-making process. Then the bomb-shell. Someone recalls there are Red Servant and Shepherd’s notebooks in existence. Many of the issues being discussed in the court case are likely recorded in Faithful Pilgrim’s handwriting.

“Mr Henry said do you keep notes of these meetings? Faithful said at one stage I keep notes and then I stopped. Mr Henry said you’ve got some little red exercise books where you recorded the goings on in these meetings haven’t you? Faithful said I recorded some meeting somewhere but around that time I stop taking notes. Mr Henry said can you make those books available to the court? Faithful said what are you asking? Mr Henry said can you make those books with your notes of the meetings in them available to the court? Faithful turned to the judge and said is that what you want?
The Judge responded that there might well be in interest from the court to see these notebooks.  (There was a discussion about the notes being brought in to evidence, and the powers of the court under the act to request said notebooks. Mr Henry indicated the interest would be in determining the power and control structure, which may well lead to the issue of who is the employer. The judge indicated there would be further discussions may need to be held on this issue.)”

Further discussions were held and the note books were required to be brought to court. However, a week later, there was a hiccup. The notebooks couldn’t be found. They had been given to their lawyer to look after and he had moved his legal practice and the books were in some storage on the West Coast and weren’t able to be located. The Judge determined that the said lawyer might need to write a note to explain himself… But don’t be concerned. He eventually found them!!

Gloriavale had some hesitation because of the vast amount of information in these books, and the costly exercise of their lawyers going through them to ensure people’s personal information was safe-guarded. Servants and Shepherd’s meeting were where all the community business was discussed, and where disciplinary sessions took pace. Ah, the feared SS meetings. They might shine some light on how this group operates.

Mr Henry came up with a solution that he would be happy with just a small selection of the notebooks, and he would randomly pick them. The picking process went well, and Mr Henry in the end just decided to select one book – from 2008 – 2014. He proceeded to find some pages of interest, photocopy them and enter them in as evidence and use them for cross-examination time with the Shepherds (namely Samuel Valor). I am sure it was an uncomfortable time for Samuel.

Even I found myself squirming as Brian took him through a stroll through the pages. It was clear as clear that the Servants and Shepherds were indeed involving themselves in every minute details of the community – the roster decisions of where the girls would work, marriage rules to ensure no intermarriage, wedding day, unity, electric bike ban (not allowed to “hot” up the bikes with more gears), hostel management, India (not allowed to change things – must be just like Gloriavale in NZ), chaperones, camera purchase, land swap with DOC, need for Commitments, humility and submission, competition between farms, arranged marriages, Young People’s meetings, work areas, parenting struggles, farm accidents, quad bike use, guns, books, carnal attitudes, rebellion. boot cupboard, keeping home in order, DVD regulations, health accessibility, prayer first, editing films, baptism, putting people aside, noise at dinner table, stress on ladies’ workforce, fasting to save ladies’ workload, teaching programme in kitchen, someone’s hernia operation, writing a book, video organisation, how wives need to acknowledge husbands when they come home, and find out what the husband wants and feels and meet that need…

Yes pretty much anything and everything to do with community life was talked about in those meetings.

Mr Henry said, “That’s pretty tight details on the management of the community.” Samuel said, “Yes.”

Yes indeed. Good to have that evidence. The Gloriavale leaders do indeed have power and control over the details of people’s lives.

4) Movie Watching in Court

In any other space, this may have been a pop-corn experience, but we didn’t get any warning that Mr Henry was going to request permission to screen “Gloriavale: A Women’s Place” in court! The judge agreed and we settle back for a 40-minute reminder of how Gloriavale operates – out of their own mouth.

Prior to this Gloriavale witnesses tried hard to say that the girls who spoke about getting up early were exaggerating. Witnesses one after the other tried to say that the girls didn’t get up until 6am.

But out of the mouth of Dove Love comes the truth. The camera does a close-up of the clock. It shows it’s 5:30am. Dove says that the girls have been up working for half and hour, preparing food for the day ahead. Bingo! The judge, quick as wink, picked up her pen and noted the evidence.

5) A Life in Common

Gloriavale entered in their own evidence, a pamphlet called, “A Life in Common” which they give to visitors to help them understand each aspect of the Gloriavale life. Stephen Standfast directed one of the witnesses to pages 4-5 where it talks about the Christian life. He asked her what the verses on personal salvation meant, and how they applied to her life as a child after one of her parent’s sadly died.

He then didn’t refer to the booklet again.

But Mr Henry and Mr Kirkness hadn’t had their opportunity for questioning. They glanced through the booklet and found some interesting material.

Mr Henry drew attention to the passage in Page four. He said there’s a passage from the Bible and then it reads, “Converts must count the cost of giving up all including possessions, self-will, opinions, career, reputation, family and friends.” Is that your understanding of what you have done? The witness said yes.

But Mr Kirkness’ eyes were sharp too and he drew her attention to evidence on page 29 where it says, “

Mr Kirkness said, “The house mother is appointed by the Church leaders,” and as you said, “organises the household budget and workforce”. So I take it from this that that role, that position is one that the leaders determine which woman is the most appropriate person at any one time to be the house mother? The witness agreed. Mr Kirkness said is that the same for the other senior position in the women’s realm? Are those roles, in your knowledge also appointed by the leaders? The witness said yes I think so.

This just reinforced that any authority given to women in the “women’s realm” was simply a delegation from the men above, who truly got to make all the decisions. Clearly the “leaders of the church” were intimately involved in the workplace staffing positions, and not simply performing voluntary home-making duties in their homes for their own family.

The Life in Common booklet was very helpful. Sometimes you have to be careful what evidence your admit in court.

Disclaimer: Content Warning

6) Hopeful Christian’s Judgments are made publicly available for the first time

This was one of those moments where you genuinely felt sorry for the person in the witness box, especially the lovely young ladies who are naive (and in many ways should remain that way). The details of Hopeful Christian’s offending have been well-suppressed in Gloriavale and the second and generation have very little idea of what went on in the early years of Gloriavale’s history. They might have heard rumours of spas, public sessions and hand-on education sessions, but that’s about it. In fact it became clear that this was the first time some of the leaders had ever heard the details. Most loyal members have been quick to discount these as “rumours from leavers who just want to destroy the church”. The danger with that approach is that you won’t have a logically informed answer when you’re faced with the court judgments and asked to comment…

Three court judgments were entered into evidence, and it it’s likely the Government themselves had never seen these files before. Mr Henry took various people through the judgments of Judge Noble (1994, Original sentencing notes for 10 counts of indecent assault involving 5 complainants), Judge Hattaway (1995, sentencing remarks after a retrial with a reduced numbers of complainants), and Chief Justice Eichelbaum (Appeal re sentence length 1996). You can read those notes yourself for the awful details of the offending. I’m not going to traverse that ground here.

But, below are some telling comments from the judge – which clearly point to the fact that the NZ Government should have been concerned about the safety of children at Gloriavale, given they were the ones who prosecuted Hopeful Christian in the mid-90’s. That is of particular interest to me. Keep in mind he was let back into the community after 11 months… That’s where my concern lies. They knew there was control and domination at play.

Judge Noble’s Comments 1994:

Judge Hattaway’s Sentencing 1995 (where it becomes clear Hopeful Christian had not denied the events took place)

He also noted, ‘You treated her, on the evidence that I have heard, cruelly, most cruelly in the extreme.”

Judge Eichelbaum’s Appeal Sentencing Comments 1996:

The judge said, “The pre-sentence report stated that the appellant at all times denied having committed any offence”. Also that, “There were no signs the appellant had the capacity to accept responsibility for his offending and to reform.”

The point here, is that there is evidence that Hopeful Christian did not deny the offending took place. He just denied there was any bad motivation behind it.

The question Mr Henry asked witnesses was, “Does this sound like Christian behaviour”

That question stuck in the throat of many. Stephen admitted it didn’t sound Christian. That was an honest moment.

But the bigger point to be made, is that the Government already knew about the all-consuming dominating way Gloriavale was run. And yet they somehow allowed it to become more isolated. And then someone in Probation and Parole allowed him back onto the property 11 months later (after the judge determined there was little insight into his offending). And when in 2015 they became more aware of issues at Gloriavale due to people leaving, they failed again with their Multi-Agency response to the Charities Services’ Investigation. The Govt kept registering the school and the charity, and even defended it. Finally the 2020 Police Investigation unearthed systemic abuse that had run down through the generations all the way across to Springbank. And the leaders claim “they didn’t know.” That sticks in my throat.

7) Faithful Pilgrim admits he doesn’t believe Hopeful Christian is guilty

Mr Henry took Faithful Pilgrim through the judgments, and Faithful admitted he did not believe Mr Christian was guilty. He has supported him through the trial, and at the time wrote a 24-point letter which he shared with the community in the 1990’s about why he didn’t believe the evidence stacked up.

I hope Faithful has read the judgments above and has taken some time to reflect on his position. It’s not too late for him to say he was wrong, and that it was foolish to put his life and salvation in the hands of this man the courts called cruel and dominating. It’s not too late for him to apologise to the people he hurt by insisting Hopeful was not guilty. It’s not too late for him to find peace off the property at Gloriavale, to reflect on how he can move forwards with integrity and empathy and compassion.

It’s never too late to apologise and to make things right.

8) Stephen Standfast admits Hopeful Christian sinned

Wow. This was a quite a moment in court.

Stephen said,

“It would appear that there were elements about him that I would call serious failings but I don’t believe that the Church, the community, so many of the good and right things that take place in our life are evil or wrong because he sinned in that area.”

To many people it would have passed them by as something quite inconsequential. But to those living in Gloriavale, this is QUITE a serious thing to say.

You see, in Gloriavale Hopeful has been held up as the star in the right hand of Jesus. He is their prophet. He is God’s spokeperson to them. He is sinless…

I have heard people from Gloriavale tell me that Hopeful has never sinned since he got saved.

So for the next up-and-coming Overseeing Shepherd to admit this was quite a moment.

The exchange went like this,

Mr Henry said would you describe him (Hopeful Christian) by that conduct as a false prophet? Stephen said no. Mr Henry said why not? Stephen said you’re referring to the conduct that he was convicted of? Mr Henry said I’m referring to the conduct set out in the court case of his condition. The actual conduct recorded in those court cases, the contact with young men, the wooden device, the use of the wooden device, the teaching of young women in the community to use the wooden device, that’s what I’m talking about, not the fact of conviction.

Stephen said so the question was do I believe he was a false prophet because of those actions? Mr Henry said the question is that and you’ve said “no,” and I’m asking you why? Stephen said because there were many other things that came through him that could have only come about because of the Holy Ghost working. It’s certainly something for contemplation. I can’t deny the truth that I understand which was delivered through him that he appears to have been caught up in something that is completely foreign to the scripture and to Godliness. I don’t have an explanation for but I don’t believe that everything that he was involved in as far as the Church and community goes was false as in false teaching, etc. But there certainly are things that I haven’t engaged myself to understand more deeply at this point but certainly going forward would be necessary to do so.

Mr Henry said if we go to page 150 in the book (What We Believe), it reads, “Moreover his life must be such that those outside the Church cannot justly find fault with his character or his dealings with them. In these things he must have good rapport with all men, lest he fall into the reproach and the snare of the Devil.” How do you distinguish between him being influenced by the Holy Ghost and the snare of the Devil? Stephen said he was a person. He was a human, therefore, he had the ability to fail. I believe that God used him to bring about change and set up issues. It wasn’t about him it was about what God was doing with the Church and what God was doing with people who were putting their trust in God. Hopeful was a tool God used. It would appear that there were elements about him that I would call serious failings but I don’t believe that the Church, the community, so many of the good and right things that take place in our life are evil or wrong because he sinned in that area.

Honestly I am not sure many people in Gloriavale know that Stephen has made this admission. It must have been difficult for him, because has been a loyal and true disciple of Hopeful. He moved away from his own family in his teens, was taken under Hopeful’s wings and then ultimately groomed for leadership after proving his loayalty over the years. I hope Stephen has taken the time to reflect on his unwavering devotion to Hopeful, and wonder when there will be some honesty at a community level about Hopeful’s “sins” and “failings”.

All Stephen has to do is some simple maths. One + One = two. We got in the mess we are in today, because of things that went before. I encourage Stephen to now do the hard work. Pick up the spade and start uncovering the buried things that you’ve not been willing to attend to. It’ll hurt. But it might just slot some of the puzzle pieces into place. Then there might be some true change and some much-needed healing. There is understandably a lot of hurt.

We will all know things have changed at Gloriavale when there is honesty around this issue.

We’ll know things have changed when current leaders like Stephen step up and acknowledge their failings in allowing it to occur. They knew enough. And what they did know they covered up or acted poorly. And what they didn’t know, they deliberately didn’t try to find out.

But they have to be held to account for what they did do – and that’s maintaining a system of silence and an environments where all kinds of abuse could and did flourish.

9) Sea Change Moment

The Government were the first defendants in this case – for their failure to recognise labour exploitation and deal with it. But they were also keen to take credit for some changes occurring in Gloriavale. (We don’t mind them taking some credit, as long as they can admit it took some years of leavers and supporters advocating and some terrible sexual offending exposure for them to take things seriously). I guess I’m saying from my perspective there wasn’t much willingness by Government agencies to dive into the complex space of Gloriavale until very recently. (I have the evidence to back that claim up)

So the Government is in court trying to show that’s been very active in the sphere, and they make a point of showcasing evidence Stephen Standfast gave in court, that Government agencies had visited the community over 325 times since 2020. Stephen said,

Our community receives multi-agency input and support from various Government agencies. Since January 2020 we have had numerous visits from external agencies:
80 visits from the Police
74 visits from Oranga Tamariki
131 visits by STOP facilitators
20 visits by START facilitators
6 visits by WorkSafe
8 visits by Ministry of Education
6 visits by Safeguarding Children.
He also added that didn’t include visits from the District Health Board and others)

The Government then used this information to show that they had indeed been part of some positive cultural changes at Gloriavale.

But the Government was given some food for thought by Dr Norris (Forensic Psychiatrist) in her exchange with the Govt lawyer Ms Catran:

Ms Catran said I want to deal briefly with the issue of engagement with Government agencies and reporting wrongdoing.  You’ve talked about other research you’ve come across and the way therapists need to engage quite carefully with people who’ve left the community. We’ve had evidence of a previous culture or policy of dealing with all problems that arise within the confines of the community – bringing them to the leaders, or dealing with them individually, not taking them outside and that includes not complaining to the police or other government agencies about wrongdoing. We’ve heard also that this policy has been changing over the last several years (the length of time we’re not quite sure), but it’s agreed that this change in culture takes some time and that during that transition period some individuals will embrace the change in culture and some will have difficulty with it. At paragraph 134 you talk about the prospect of a change in community values. You’re talking about the range of options available to women. You’re not talking about engagement with government agencies but I wonder if the same principle might apply. You say, “A wider range of choices could only be considered available to community members if there was a change in the community values that was communicated by the leaders and widely accepted by the group.” Are those the things that you think are necessary for culture change to be achieved? Communication by the leaders and acceptance by the group?

Dr Norris said I’m more referring to a sea change rather than something quite that narrow. The characteristics I was given involved a male-dominated hierarchy structure. I can’t comment on changes that have happened over time. I don’t have anything more specific than that but the sea change I’m talking about would be a change in roles available, a widening of experiences so people could make different choices, make them safely, freely without fear of issue or ostracism, those aspects that could potentially cause that influence, an opening of that environment. That’s more what I’m referring to there. So it is also true that culture change takes time, but I’m referring to more significant changes than just involvement through an external agency.

Ms Catran said by sea change you mean a really fundamental change to the way the community works? Dr Norris said significant changes or options being available and there is no concern around the perception that that choice was not available.”

So you can have agencies visiting Gloriavale, and they can take some credit for some positive changes post 2020.

BUT, what about asking the necessary questions. Why did this group need 325 visits after 2020? How bad was this community? How much muck was being uncovered?

The second question is, how many visits were there prior to 2020?

And how “open” were the eyes that were visiting?

I don’t think the Government should be trying to put a good spin on this one. I feel they did miss the boat collectively (and like Mr Henry says, I’m not including the Police in this, who have had to work under difficult circumstances, and have definitely been very engaged since 2020).

10) The Judge

Judge Inglis had a keen sense of humour! Twice in particular we roared with laughter, along with the whole courtroom.

In Gloriavale’s closing submissions, the Judge asked Gloraivale’s lawyer, Carter Pearce, “What did the Court of Appeal say in the Prasad case?” Mr Pearce said “The submission was that the Employment Court went rogue, if I can use that word.” The judge said, “I’d rather you didn’t because I was the judge“!

A golden moment!

Another occasion was when Samuel Valor was questioning the Overseeing Shepherd, Howard Temple. Samuel was asking about the impact that a ruling of employee might have on the community.

“Howard said it would affect it drastically I think. The girls working in the kitchen, a lot of families are represented there. The girls are not often from one family, they’re from a number of different families. They’re preparing food for their families but as well at the same time they’re preparing food for other families as well.  They’re cooking food for a number of families. The next week a separate group of girls come in. Well now they will be preparing food for all the other families okay, so it’s a little bit of this week this group is preparing food for everybody. Next week another group is preparing food for everybody. Okay? If you say they are employees now? To organise that, is something that has come to my mind many times but to come up with a solution, a perfect system that would work okay? Then that’s it, that of rostering it out. What girl is going to feed what family? Okay, we’re going to employ. Somebody has to employ them. I’m having a bit of a problem with just solving that, off the top of my head at the present time. How to make it work and the repercussions of that one.

“Howard said you know, what I’m saying?” He then turned and looked at Samuel Valor and said, “You might have to give me the solution, how all this would work.”

Then the judge said “Or I might give you the solution” (everyone laughed!)

And I guess the judge will deliver her solution sometime soon…

11) BONUS!

Something that will stay with us was the opportunity to connect and socalise with leavers and current members of Gloriavale. The court foyer was a large open space, and there weren’t too many places to hide. So it was a case of walking across to the other side of the room and striking up conversations when the opportunity presented itself. We actually had many moments of laughter and tears with current members. Some we are able to pray with and empathise with, and let us know they were secretly cheering us on. Other current members wanted to express their feelings of upset with us, about how all this pressure was impacting their lives. Others wanted to tell us how much they loved their lives. I’m grateful for each person who took the time to converse with us. I know after they left they must have been confused. Our team don’t have horns coming out their heads. They’re kind people. We shared food, drink and medication to the needy. We showed kindness and compassion. And some of them showed kindness too. The muffins were delicious!

One memorable moment was when we were standing by a group of three current members, and hubby and I decided to move closer and try to strike up some chit-chat. They were warm, and when I said, “I’m Liz” one of the young ladies jumped back in shock and said, “You’re Liz Gregory?” I put my hands up to my head, and created horns with my fingers and said, “I left my horns at home today!”. They all laughed and the tension was broken just like that.

We need to remember they are humans doing what they think is right in the eyes of God (protecting their way of life) and we’re doing what we think is right (showcasing the dangers of their way of life).

Even though it feels cruel and merciless, one day I do believe a great many of them will see it as kindness. I know the court experience has been impactful for many current members. Truth has a ring about it.

Dr Wade Mullen says, “The victims deserve, and therefore bystanders ought to demand, immediate truth seeking and truth telling. If leadership is governed by truth and not by deception, then they will seek and speak the truth no matter the cost, and if that cost entails lawsuits, falling attendance, or even shuttering the doors of the institution, then it is worth the cost, because the establishment of truth will always matter more than our establishments.”