A former Jehovah's Witness elder recently convicted of child sex offences is back working with children from a Melbourne parish run by his father-in-law.
Richard Hill was found guilty last year of the offences against his six-year-old female cousin, who was also in the religion. He was put on the sex offenders' list and fined. The offences happened in 1981 when he was 20.
Hill, a roofing plumber of Doreen with an office in Brunswick, this week maintained his innocence and confirmed he was working with children while doorknocking as part of the Jehovah's Witnesses religious practice called 'proselytizing.'
His wife's father, Ken Hall, is the senior elder at the Plenty Kingdom Hall in outer Melbourne, where Hill now worships. "I am allowed to attend under strict conditions," Hill said. "The police know about that."
Hill appealed his conviction but then dropped the appeal.
"I pleaded not guilty to all charges but we decided not to keep going because of mental stress on my family and the costs – I spent over $100,000 defending myself in the courts. You get to a point where you turn the other cheek and walk away. I am definitely not guilty. It comes down to one man's opinion over another person's opinion."
However he apologised to his victim, Melissa Buchanan, on social media, as she was preparing to tell police what had happened to her as a little girl. "I'm truly sorry Melissa," he told her in a Facebook message. "I know you must be hurt and I'm so sorry for that. Trust is very hard to earn but easy to destroy."
Ms Buchanan, 41, who is no longer in the sect, told police Hill was living in her family home in the northern suburbs in the 1980's and one night after a shower he came into her bedroom dressed only in a small yellow towel and after making her sit on his lap sexually abused her while telling her to be quiet.
Her family, she says, all staunch Jehovah's Witnesses, hushed it up to save face and the church's reputation, and Hill later became an elder.
"He could very easily do to others what he did to me," she says. "I don't know how they can have a convicted paedophile knocking on doors speaking about religion. I just want him to know that I will never forget."
Late last year the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse heard shocking revelations about the Jehovah's Witnesses in Australia, including that 1006 allegations of child sexual abuse had been lodged with church hierarchy since 1950 but none had been reported to police.
It also heard the organisation still receives three to four complaints a month.
The religion's Australian lawyer – and core member – Vincent Toole did not respond to questions from Fairfax Media this week. Victorian Jehovah's Witnesses – estimated at about 10,000 from 66,000 Australia-wide – began gathering at the isolated Melton Assembly Hall on Friday for their annual convention. Two elderly directors of the Australian governing body – the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Australia – recently stepped down. One is aged 93, the other 89.
Jehovah's Witnesses believe they have God's messages from certain sections of the Bible to themselves and that only they will survive the apocalypse. They have predicted the end of the world five times. They also believe Satan has ruled the earth since 1914.
The sect has a policy of "shunning" members who left or wanted to leave by cutting them off from family members who remained.
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