Gloriavale family 'told what to say' about Prayer Ready's death in isolation room

Fairfax Media, New Zealand/August 16, 2016

By Joanne Carroll

The daughter of Gloriavale's leader says community members would have been told what to say to investigators looking into Prayer Ready's death.

Prayer, who had Down Syndrome, choked to death in an isolation room where the door handles were disabled to stop people getting in or out.

Gloriavale founder Hopeful Christian's daughter, Miracle, told NZME that Prayer's death had divided the reclusive community's 500-plus members.

Miracle, who left the Haupiri commune with her 10 children in 2010, after 41 years, said Gloriavale members were upset by the circumstances of Prayer's death.

"I know people who could be on the verge of leaving because they are very upset about it." The disabled door handles would have concerned leaders and prompted a cover-up, she said.

"I know the mother would've been ... or I know she was... told what to say," Miracle told NZME. "[The leaders] don't like any spotlight. They would've been cooperative [with police] but they would've been careful not to give any information that shouldn't be given.

"The mother has been through an awful lot over it. She was there and knew everything that happened. She would've been under a lot of pressure to just say what they wanted her to say. That was probably hard for her. She would've been given strict orders.

"From my experience, I know how the ball rolls. I know she would've been told how to write her report, what to say."

Miracle's niece, Melissa Harrison, who lives in Berlin, wrote an open letter opposing the way Gloriavale was represented on television documentaries.

On Pantograph Punch, she wrote she wanted to raise awareness so "something may be done for the children that suffer at the hands of abusers".

The post was published the same day Stuff's Circuit team revealed the Christian community managed to keep secret the death of 14-year-old Prayer, in concerning circumstances, for more than a year.

Harrison said Gloriavale's community needed access to education and the choice to marry who they wished or to not marry at all.

"Let's not mindlessly and uncritically gather around our TV screens for a chuckle at Gloriavale as pop-culture phenomenon. Let's not watch karaoke clips of Dove Love singing for our amusement, let's not find out our Gloriavale name on Facebook, and let's not don their attire at dress-up parties," she wrote on Pantograph Punch.

"Instead, let's understand it for what it is and participate in a dialogue that calls for the protection of its children and a means to make it more realistic for people to leave."

Harrison said she was the granddaughter of Gloriavale leader Hopeful Christian, previously Neville Cooper, who was convicted of sex abuse charges in 1995.

"We have witnessed the pain of our parents being wholly rejected by their families, the suffering of cousins growing up without the love of their mother, the mental illness that has crept into manipulated and traumatised psyches, and the ongoing psychological effects of sexual abuse."

She said the people at Gloriavale were not free to leave.

"I still remember being told by my mum that she spent the first three years after they escaped waking up every night experiencing cold sweats and tremors, so truly did she believe she would face eternal damnation for leaving, so strong was her indoctrination," she wrote on Pantograph Punch.

"At the same time, she believed her children would avoid damnation because they themselves did not make the decision.

"In other words, my mother sacrificed what she thought was her eternal salvation so that we would have the choices we do today: irrespective of your own beliefs, that's a pretty heavy toll," she said.

Harrison visited Gloriavale and met some of her family members, but was not allowed to meet her grandfather.

"My grandfather, the leader and a convicted sexual offender, doesn't recognise me as his granddaughter simply because of the incredible decision my parents made to leave and raise their children with the right to choose," Harrison wrote on Pantograph Punch.

"I have listened to the numerous accounts of sexual abuse at the hands of the leaders and have seen the psychological damage it has caused the victims."

Those who left were "completely penniless with no high school education, completely disowned by the only people they have ever known", she wrote.

"I will forever hold the utmost admiration for their ability to beat the odds and break free from the shackles of control, forsaking all they knew to provide me and my siblings with choice. To choose where we live. To choose whom we love. To choose how we dress. To choose our occupations. But most importantly to choose what we believe."

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