A group of people accused of helping mothers abduct their own children from allegedly abusive fathers has been committed to stand trial in Australia.
Seven people connected to the alleged child-stealing syndicate have been charged in relation to a string of parental child abductions—including the case of one woman who kidnapped her twin daughters from the Queensland city of Townsville in 2014, and another who kidnapped her grandson from the same city in 2018. In the latter case, the group hid the boy across state lines in New South Wales.
Concerned mothers approached the syndicate because they feared their children were being sexually abused by their custodial fathers, according to investigators, and the syndicate in turn organised for those children to be taken, in breach of Family Court orders.
Of those people linked to the abduction ring, two are men and five are women. Among them: general practitioner Dr William Pridgeon, 67, who was arrested in 2018 and extradited to Queensland from NSW after being accused of financing the network.
Prosecutors have described Dr Pridgeon and his co-accused, 65-year-old Patrick O'Dea, as the "central persons involved" in the syndicate, and further alleged that the men set up social media accounts to portray some of the fathers as child abusers.
But Dr Pridgeon, the founder of the Australian Anti-Paedophile Party, has insisted that he and his collaborators were trying to rescue children from sexually abusive homes.
"We believed these children and we protected them," he told a group of supporters and reporters outside a court in 2019—accusing police of deliberately ignoring evidence of child sex abuse that his group had collected. "They [the police] say that abuse did not occur. It's absurd. This is a very dark moment in the history of the Australian Federal Police."
Shortly after his arrest, he also told reporters that he was looking forward to the "truth of this matter coming out".
"Crimes have been covered up by many people who shouldn't have. I'm looking forward to exposing that and I intend to."
Around the same time, the Australian Federal Police's (AFP) Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz argued that the intention of the "well-resourced" and "organised" group was "not to protect" children.
"Not agreeing to a [family] court decision is not an excuse for engaging in this vigilante behaviour," Assistant Commissioner Platz said. "The continual movement of children, the change in their identity, the change in their location, the change in their appearances, the isolation for lengthy periods of time, has been shown to cause impacts that are long lasting for children.”
During a two-year investigation, the AFP returned 10 abducted children to their custodial parents—five of them allegedly linked to the group run by Dr Pridgeon. A prosecutor claimed that the group used encrypted communication, and suggested that the operation’s “level of sophistication” was “quite high.”
Dr Pridgeon and O’Dea are accused of several offences each, including child stealing and conspiring to defeat justice. One woman faces one count of child stealing and two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice, while the other four are charged with conspiring to defeat justice.
All seven will stand trial at a date yet to be set.
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