A woman who claims her English husband ruined their marriage by bringing in another "sister-wife" will be leading women demonstrators at the tgrial of a polygamist leader later this month.
Vicy Prunty is one of a group of Mormon polygamists' former wives who have formed an organisation called Tapestry in Polygamy to protest against "plural marriages" and help other wives to escape from polygamy.
She knows the misery of polygamy at first hand because, she says, her 10-year marriage ended after her husband, Gary Batchelor, a former Westminster Abbey chorister from Cheshunt, Herts, brought a second wife, Mary, into their marriage.
"I consented and gave her to him, but I realised soon afterwards it was a big mistake," said Vicy. "He believed in it and she believed in it and I was the outcast. I tried to be obedient and submissive, but I knew polygamy was wrong. Gary's interest in it ended our marriage.
"He claimed he was motivated by the religious aspect of it and was following the teaching of the earlier leaders of the Mormon Church, but he once told me he would never be attracted to a flat-chested woman, so it wasn't all religion."
Mr. Batchelor, 40, who joined the Mormon Church in England and moved to Utah when he was 18 to study at Brigham Young University, is the father of 11 children and still lives with his other wife in Sandy, Utah. He confirmed Vicky's story of their marriage, but was unwilling to discuss it unless he was promised anonymity. "I'm not a practising polygamist at the moment, but I would like to be again," he said.
Utah's polygamous groups are coming under close scrutiny as a result of the forth-coming felony trial of a man accused of making his 16-year-old niece his 15th wife. At the trial, due to start in Salt Lake City on April 20, David Kingston faces charges of incest and sexual abuse of a minor.
His brother John, 43, will be tried the next day, 90 miles away in the city of Logan, on charges of whipping his daughter, now 17, with a belt and hitting her in the face after she ran away from the arranged polygamous marriage.
All three were members of the Kingston group, a polygamist clan that calls itself the Latter-Day Church of Christ and is reported to have more than 1,000 members.
Sources say the increased scrutiny has made the polygamous groups more secretive and added weight to their doomsday prophecies. Some are reported to be preparing for the Great Destruction, when cities will be destroyed and thousands killed.
That is when, they believe, they will be able to live in luxury in beautiful houses and own expensive cars.
The publicity the case is attracting is proving an embarrassment to Salt Lake City officials, who are just recovering from an Olympics bribery scandal and are trying to restore the city's reputation for the 2002 Winter Games.
It is believed that polygamy is practised by more than 100,000 Mormon fundamentalists in North America.
Leaders of the 10 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced multiple marriages more than a century ago, say anyone caught engaging in polygamy is swiftly excommunicated.
"Unfortunately it still goes on," said Miss Prunty, 35. "We have formed our organization to provide help and support for women trying to leave this lifestyle.
"Most women are still very afraid of making their unhappiness known because they are in danger. We have had scores of requests for help."
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