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Changes at Gloriavale after charity probe

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 27/03/2017
The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast. © TV3 The Gloriavale compound on the West Coast.

The government agency charged with policing charities has spelled out to Gloriavale leaders what it expects from the West Coast Christian community after the spotlight was brought onto its practices two years ago.

However, it says allegations of sexual abuse are best handled by police, who aren't commenting on their investigation.

Charities Services, part of the Department of Internal Affairs, began investigating the West Coast community in 2015 following media reports of more people leaving amid allegations of enforced marriage, sexual and physical abuse and forced separation of families.

The community, near Greymouth, has more than 500 members, including 55 families.

Charities Services finished its investigation in October and documents first released to Newsroom.co.nz under the Official Information Act reveal they had information that indicated the trustees may have been breaching the Charities Act.

Investigators considered the trustees conduct towards members: "does not constitute good governance or management" and wouldn't promote trust and confidence in the charitable sector.

Investigators spoke to trustees Fervent Stedfast, Enoch Upright and Howard Temple, as well as 18 former members, but concluded a warning wasn't required as the trustees had cooperated and agreed to resolve the issues.

Concerns were raised about trustee decisions made during "shepherds and servants" meetings, and Gloriavale says it will now appoint two younger people, and two external people - a local solicitor and a local businessman - to the trust.

Concerns were also raised about the signing of the "Declaration of Commitment" document, which purported to hand over everything to Gloriavale and to stop them taking action against it on leaving.

The document was used as a justification to take control of individuals' financial affairs. Many alleged they were coerced into signing it.

The investigation also confirmed former members' claims funds were removed from their bank account after they left.

Gloriavale's trustees acknowledged a lawyer needed to be present to explain the document to those signing.

BNZ has now changed its processes so that individuals will now open their accounts without "shepherds" present.

Charities Services was also happy with Gloriavale's assurance no one was forced to marry against their will.

In a letter to trustees, Charities Services' acting general manager Jane Pierard spelled out what changes they understood Gloriavale would make.

It included making sure anyone who wanted to leave was provided with enough funds and not "shunned" and be allowed to contact family and friends who remained.

Police also began investigating complaints in 2015. They won't comment "in order to protect the privacy and welfare of those people raising concerns".

Charities Services admitted police were best placed to investigate claim of sexual assault.

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