Monday, October 25, 2004

SYDNEY, Australia — Six men have been convicted of charges ranging from rape to indecent assault after trials that exposed a culture of sexual abuse on their small Pacific island, home to descendants of the 18th-century mutineers from the British ship H.M.S. Bounty.

Among those convicted late Sunday was the mayor of Pitcairn Island, Steve Christian, who says he is a direct descendant of mutiny leader Fletcher Christian. He was cleared of four charges of indecent assault and one charge of rape but convicted of five other rape charges.

The verdicts were read by judges sent from New Zealand for the trials, which began Sept. 30 in a makeshift court in the island’s community hall. Sentences were expected to be announced later this week, British authorities said yesterday.

Islanders have expressed concern that if the men are imprisoned, no one will be available to crew a long boat that serves as the island’s lifeline — transporting freight and passengers to and from passing ships that cannot dock along the rocky shore.

In all, seven men faced more than 50 sex abuse charges, some dating back 40 years. One man was acquitted, said Bryan Nicolson of the British High Commission in Wellington, New Zealand.

Prosecutors, building their case on the testimony of eight women, painted a picture of a male-dominated society in which underage sex was commonplace.

Some of the island’s women came out in defense of the men, saying that although underage sex did happen, it was consensual and important to the island’s survival. Pitcairn has a permanent population of 47.

Jay Warren, the island’s magistrate, was found not guilty of indecent assault. His wife, Carol Warren, reacted angrily despite her husband being cleared.

“His name’s been dragged through the mud,” she told TVNZ. “The whole world now sees him as a child molester. My God, if they only knew him.”

None of the victims of abuse still lives on the island; they testified by way of a video link from the northern New Zealand city of Auckland. A New Zealand police officer who told the eight women of the verdicts said they welcomed the outcome.

“They were all extremely relieved — as if a lifetime of emotional turmoil has been concluded,” police Constable Karen Vaughan told TVNZ. “Some were overwhelmed, but on the whole they feel justice has been done.”

The convicted men could be sentenced to prison time in the island’s newly built cell block. But they will continue to be free pending the outcome of an appeal by defense attorneys against Britain’s jurisdiction over the remote island. That case is expected to be heard next year in New Zealand.

Pitcairn, lying midway between Peru and New Zealand, has long fascinated the world for being the refuge of the men who mutinied aboard the Bounty and cast Capt. William Bligh adrift with his supporters in 1789.

The Pitcairn Islands are a group of five rocky volcanic outcroppings — only the largest of which is inhabited — with a combined area of 18 square miles.

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