Cult Kidnap Boy Aged 16

Daily Express, July 14, 2000
By Alex Hendry

Members of a religious cult were being hunted by police last night after they were accused of kidnapping a 16-year-old schoolboy.

Bobby Kelly was made a ward of court on Wednesday because of concern for his safety at the hands of the Jesus Christians.

Last night his photograph was circulated to police and a watch was being kept at airports and docks because of fears the cult was planning to take him out of the country.

His grandmother, Ruth, 58, said: "He told me in a phone call that the Jesus Christians have told him he must give up everything, including his family." Bobby, who had just finished his GCSE exams, was shopping in Romford, Essex, with his grandmother when he met one of the cult's members handing out leaflets outside Marks & Spencer. Later that day he announced that he was going to join them.

Solicitor Clare Kirby, who specialises in cases against cults, is acting for the family. She said: "It is scary stuff. These people can turn people's minds in just 24 hours."

The police hunt was launched as campaigners urged the Government to make it illegal for religious cults to prey on the young and vulnerable. Graham Baldwin, whose charity Catalyst was set up to help the families of people caught up in cults, said: "The case illustrates how these people target young people. Bobby was under their spell within a few hours.

"It is fortunate that someone close to his family suspected that something was wrong and did something to try to save him." They contacted Mr Baldwin and Ms Kirby who succeeded in getting legal aid for emergency High Court action to try to rescue the schoolboy.

Yesterday the Official Solicitor Lawrence Oates was appointed guardian to Bobby and, in a rare move, High Court judge Mr Justice Sumner ruled the case could be publicised to try to find the youngster.

Bobby was a pupil at Redden Court in Essex and lived with his grandmother in Romford. As the hunt for her grandson continued last night, she said: "I have been sitting here watching the clock hoping at every minute I would have a call to say Bobby is safe." She told how he became involved with the Jesus Christians a fortnight ago when he met one of them handing out leaflets.

"We had gone shopping in Romford," she said, "and Bobby later told me about the man and said he was a Christian like he was. Bobby was a member of a local church. That afternoon he said he was going out and then when he came home he announced that he was going to join these people."

She met them a few days later and quickly became suspicious of the group - an Australian couple with a little boy, a German and two Englishmen. They were travelling around in a white Leyland Daf van, registration number K141 LHT.

Bobby's grandmother said: "They took his TV and video and wanted to take other things belonging to Bobby from my flat but I banned them. They wanted his bank book - not that there is anything in it - and they were trying to get him a passport to take him abroad. They would not let him speak to me on his own. I tried. But he said he had to have one of the group with him all the time."

Bobby's mother Jessica, 33, and five-year-old sister Charlotte live in Clacton, Essex. He had stayed with his grandmother to finish his schooling and had planned to go to college for a course in business studies in September.

Mrs Kelly said: "His little sister is heartbroken. She loved Bobby. She can't understand why he is not in touch."

She added: "His hero was Richard Branson and he wanted to be successful like him. He had bought his book and he would quote me bits from it. He said he was going to become rich and he would buy me and his mother houses.

"I just don't understand what has happened. Bobby was a lovely grandson. He cared about people. He wanted to help homeless people. He was always buying copies of The Big Issue."

David Whitehouse, a youth worker at St Peter's Church in Harold Wood, Essex, which Bobby attended, said: "He is a typical cheeky teenager and will talk to anybody and that's what happened here.

"This group has a veneer of respectability but there is something very disturbing about them. When I saw Bobby a week ago he was with three of them and he seemed very scared, which was unlike him."

Last year the Jesus Christians were involved in another incident with a young student in Guildford, Surrey, which is thought to be the home of one of the group.

Mother Bernadette Sheridan reported her son Kyri, 19, missing. When she tried to snatch him back during a meeting in Guildford the police were called and she was arrested. Bernadette told how when she finally made contact with her son he was like a zombie with staring eyes. A member of the cult who was with him told her: "He's not your son any more. Your job is finished, he's ours now." She has not seen him since that meeting a year ago.

The Jesus Christians are a breakaway group of the discredited Children of God cult. It is a small group headed by Australian David McKay. It has its own web site which is monitored by Mr Baldwin of Catalyst.

He said: "When Bobby is found he will be resentful at first. It will take time to sort him out. He has only been a short time with the group so he may respond quickly."

The group's literature calls on converts to forsake their jobs, family and friends. "God is now your Boss and he has a new job for you that will not wait," says the leaflet handed out by cult members.

In a statement, Official Solicitor Mr Oates said last night that Bobby was last seen in the white Leyland Daf van. "At present, his whereabouts are unknown. His grandmother is very worried about him and fears that he may be taken abroad.

"He has telephoned her on several occasions and she describes him as sounding very strange and most unlike the Bobby she knows."

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here.