The teenage runaway rebuilding his life after abandoning religious cult

Evening Standard - London/April 8, 2002

A teenager who sparked a worldwide alert when he left his family to join a religious cult has quit the sect and begun to rebuild his life, it has emerged.

Bobby Kelly was only 16 when he ran away with the Jesus Christians sect after meeting members of the group while out shopping with his grandmother.

He was made a ward of court after leaving his home in Romford, Essex, to join the sect, that same afternoon in the summer of 2000.

His frantic family feared he had been taken abroad and was being used to gain publicity for the sect which rejects material wealth, supports communal living and promotes a nomadic lifestyle.

But after he had been missing for almost a month, police officers specialising in kidnap cases found Bobby safe and well. He was living with two members of the group in a tent in a forest on the Hampshire-Surrey border.

For almost two years, a High Court gagging order has prevented publication of any details of Bobby's life since then.

Now, as he has reached his 18th birthday, the injunction has been lifted and it can be disclosed that he has turned his back on the cult and is in contact with his family.

Messages on the Jesus Christians website suggest Bobby made contact with the cult a number of times in the first six months after police found him.

In one email, apparently sent by him in January last year, he makes clear that he has found a religious faith, but adds: "The reason why I do not wish to join your group is because I think you are very against a number of people and I do not want to make enemies.

"I also love my family and when I got back I realised how much some of them love me. " Bobby's grandmother Ruth Kelly confirmed he has been living with a foster family and is no longer in contact with the Jesus Christians sect, established in 1981 by Australian David McKay.

Mrs Kelly said: "It was his choice to go and live with foster parents, but we are in touch. He is feeling confident about himself now and just wants to move forward and get on with his life. He does not have any contact with them now. " The case came to national attention in July 2000 when Bobby's family appealed for his safe return.

Two cult members arrested when he was found were released after a private hearing at the High Court.

Two others, Susan and Roland Gianstefani, were spared jail after Bobby made an impassioned plea in their defence. They were among the Jesus Christians he met when he was shopping in Romford and faced jail for contempt of court after refusing to reveal his whereabouts. But their sentences were suspended because they apologised to the court and Bobby had been found safe and well.

While he was missing, the teenager rang the BBC and gave a telephone interview insisting he had not been "brainwashed", but admitting he had been accompanied to a call box by a member of the cult.

A judge initially banned the BBC from broadcasting the interview on the grounds that Bobby's words were being controlled by the religious sect. The interview was eventually broadcast after a judge overturned the ban in the public interest.

Bobby admitted feeling homesick and missing his family, but told the interviewer: "I'm fine, I'm better than usual and enjoying my life . I know exactly what I'm doing and exactly who I've joined ... I'm staying with the group, hopefully for the rest of my life."

He added: "I'm very homesick, I miss my nan and my mum and my sister, but it says in the Bible, I have to give everything up for God."

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