Survivor takes Anne Hamilton-Byrne cult The Family to VCAT

The Age, Australia/September 3, 2017

By Chris Johnston

Anne Hamilton-Byrne's notorious Melbourne cult, The Family, has been hit with legal action by a survivor in a bid to probe the group's shadowy finances, compensate victims and remove the dying leader's legal guardians.

The action, which begins in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal on Tuesday, is the most significant development in the cult's 50-year story since Ms Hamilton-Byrne and her then-husband, Bill, were extradited from America to face charges in Melbourne in 1994.

Ms Hamilton-Byrne is 96. She has dementia and has been in palliative care in an eastern suburbs nursing home since Christmas.

She has led the secretive cult since the 1960s and orchestrated her followers through a campaign of stealing children for adoption from Melbourne hospitals.

Many of the children were drugged with LSD as teenagers. Fourteen were kept at a house beside Lake Eildon, with identical dyed blonde hair and new identities, through the 1970s and 1980s until being freed by police in 1987.

Child survivors of the cult allege they were abused, starved and brainwashed by cult adults under instruction from Ms Hamilton-Byrne.

Former cult child Leeanne Creese, who was given the name Anna Hamilton-Byrne in the cult, has initiated the two-pronged legal attack.

The first hearing in VCAT this week seeks to remove Ms Hamilton-Byrne's legal and financial guardians, who have power of attorney over her affairs.

The cult leader needs these guardians, Helen McCoy and Geoff Dawes, because of her dementia.

The two are also directors of a registered charity, Life For All Creatures.

Mr Dawes, a Hamilton-Byrne loyalist, is the son of the cult's former teacher Leon Dawes.

Ms McCoy, who has claimed she has never been a cult member, is the principal of a school for disabled children in Wheelers Hill.

The cult's assets are estimated to be worth up to $10 million, with properties in the Dandenong Ranges near Melbourne and the United States.

The cult will be represented at the tribunal by John Howie, an ALP-linked lawyer who is on the board of the John Cain Foundation and has chaired Victorian Legal Aid, Film Victoria, and VicSport.

Mr Howie represented Ms Hamilton-Byrne in a civil case brought in 2007 by the cult leader's granddaughter..

He did not respond to requests for comment.

Said Ms Creese: "I want to dethrone her, and take away her money."

As "Anna", Ms Creese directly led to a renewed police investigation into the cult in the 1980s after escaping from the Lake Eildon compound through a bathroom window.

"I want to show [Ms Hamilton-Byrne] and every complicit person who did her dirty work that they can't get away with it."

Ms Hamilton-Byrne and then husband Bill Hamilton-Byrne were charged with minor fraud offences after being extradited from the US in the 1990s.

More serious charges springing from the allegations of abuse and forced administration of drugs have never been laid.

Survivors are also considering a class action against Ms Hamilton-Byrne's estate in the Supreme Court, seeking compensation for abuse.

They say they may also seek to have Life For All Creatures, run by cult members, stripped of its charity status.

Ms Creese has started a fundraising campaign to help pay for her legal action.

Chris Johnston is the co-author of an investigative book on The Family.

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