Cult Denies 'brainwashing' Boy

BBC News, July 15, 2000

The leader of a cult suspected of abducting a missing teenager has denied holding him against his will or "brainwashing" him.

But David McKay, the American leader of the Jesus Christian, speaking from Australia where the group is based, told BBC Radio Four's Today programme the group would do nothing to facilitate Bobby Kelly's return to the authorities.

Essex Police have alerted ports and airports as the hunt for the 16-year-old continues amid fears he may have been taken to Germany.

Bobby left home two weeks ago after speaking to members of the Jesus Christians while shopping in Romford, Essex.

'Bobby seemed scared' Youth worker David Whitehouse

His grandmother Ruth, his legal guardian, is so concerned about his disappearance she has made him a ward of court, which means he can be taken away from the group when he is found.

A spokesman at the Official Solicitor's office said the judgement also meant any attempt to take him out of the country would be a criminal offence.

Kidnap denied

But Mr McKay said: "We believe in his freedom as a 16-year-old to make a decision on where he is going to go.

"The only way they are going to take him is to lock him up, and I don't believe he has done anything to deserve being locked up."

He added: "He is a 16-year-old boy who is trying to make something of his life. He comes from a very difficult family background and suddenly there is this nationwide manhunt to capture him against his will."

The youngster has visited his grandmother once since walking out of her home in Romford but was escorted by a group member.

He told her that he must give everything up, including his family.

David Whitehouse, who has known Bobby for four years through his youth work at St Peter's Church, Harold Wood, Essex, also met Bobby on Thursday in the presence of group members.

'Missionary trip'

Mr Whitehouse said they told him the teenager would be going to Germany on a missionary trip within the next fortnight.

He said: "Bobby seemed scared, as if he was very wary about what the group members would think about what he was saying. He left most of the talking to the others.

"He's a young Christian man with a strong interest in the Bible and that's what this group will have used to get close to him.

"But anyone who does this to a 16-year-old, who takes him off to Germany, is not acting like a Christian. His grandmother is totally distraught."

Peter Townrow, headmaster at Redden Court School in Romford, Essex, where Bobby was formerly a pupil, said the teenager had also visited him with a group member.

He asked for his passport to be signed but Mr Townrow refused.

'We are not a cult'

In an internet statement the group described Bobby as its newest member. It also voiced concerns over the use of words like "cult" and "brainwash" by the police, church leaders and the media.

"We are not being condemned because of some evidence of evil on our part," the statement said.

"We have been condemned because these modern-day inquisitors have arbitrarily and unilaterally labelled us a cult, and then moved from that to talk about sins committed by other groups they have labelled cults.

"We are assumed to be guilty be association, even when there is no association."

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