'Cult recruitment calls' made a day before probe into decades-long child grooming

AAP, Australia/March 14, 2024

By Jack Gramenz

A day before raids on a cult compound after a probe into a decade of child grooming, the sect leader's devoted wife was making international phone calls to recruit a new member, police allege.

Sandra Mathison was on Monday charged with grooming a child under 14 years for unlawful sexual activity and grooming a child for unlawful sexual activity.

The 58-year-old was charged along with husband and self-professed prophet William Kamm after raids at their Order of St Charbel's compound at Bangalee, on the NSW South Coast.

The pair allegedly groomed a woman when she was a child for more than a decade, part of what police claim is a pattern of behaviour at the cult that was focused on Kamm's access to both adults and children for sex.

Despite what a court heard were "chilling" allegations, Mathison was granted bail on Thursday, when Magistrate Daniel Covington imposed extra conditions to mitigate the risks of her release.

She would need to be free to prepare her defence, the magistrate said.

"I'm not persuaded the case is weak at this stage," Covington said.

Kamm did not apply for bail on Thursday and remains in custody.

The 73-year-old calls himself "Little Pebble" and claims to communicate with Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary through visions.

Kamm was in prison for some of the time Mathison was allegedly grooming the child, police prosecutor Robert Breckenridge told Downing Centre Local Court as he sought to keep Mathison in custody.

The day before the compound was raided, telephone intercepts captured Mathison communicating with a woman, making arrangements to send her money to travel from Africa and join the fringe religious sect, he said.

"This is a cult… which centres around Mr Kamm having sexual access to women and children," Breckenridge said.

Mathison was quite clearly "devoted" to Kamm, he added.

"They would go to extraordinary lengths that most people in society… would never dream of," he said.

The allegations before the court were backed up by "a very longstanding, very sophisticated and very chilling set of facts in relation to the almost life-long grooming", Breckenridge added.

But Mathison's barrister Malcolm Ramage KC said the material before the court was 95 per cent hearsay.

"The assertions are not backed up whatsoever, they depend entirely on the complainant," he said.

Proposed bail conditions were quite rigorous, Ramage added.

But Covington added some of his own, including banning Mathison from travelling south of Wollongong or outside NSW, and associating with or contacting any other members of the cult.

She is also not to contact Kamm, including accepting calls from him in custody.

Despite a quite concerning connection to Kamm and allegations before the court that she had previously assisted him in custody, Mathison was not subject to bail conditions then, Covington said.

Mathison's passport, which she told the court was locked in the office safe of the cult's compound, needed to be forfeited to police at Nowra before she could be released.

She is also required to report to police daily and has limits on the number of internet-capable devices she can use.

The matter returns to court on March 28.

Kamm is due to apply for bail in April.

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