'Bounty' mutineer descendants go on trial on sex abuse charges


PITCAIRN ISLAND: The trial of seven Pitcairn Island men, descendants of the 18th-century Bounty mutineers, began on the remote Pacific Ocean island yesterday, with the mayor the first to face charges of rape and underage sex.

Mayor Steve Christian, a descendant of Fletcher Christian who led the mutineers, appeared in a specially built courtroom before three British judges to face six charges of rape and four charges of indecent assault on four women from 1964 to 1975.

Pitcairn, the last British territory in the Pacific, with a population of just 47, is a five sq km outcrop about halfway between New Zealand and Panama.

Prosecutor Simon Moore told the court in the island's community hall that Mr Christian (53) had used his power as the "leader of the pack" to rape and indecently assault girls as young as 12.

Mr Christian pleaded not guilty before the panel of three judges wearing the traditional black robes of British courts.

The court was told that in police interviews Mr Christian had talked of "consensual sex", describing one girl as "fooling around with everybody", TV New Zealand reported. But Mr Moore told the court: "There was no question of consent. It was as if the accused was exercising some right which he believed to be his."

The seven men - half of Pitcairn's male population and all descendants of the mutineers who rebelled against Captain William Bligh on the Bounty - face sex charges dating back more than 40 years. The British government has had to ship in judges, police, a jail, court officials and a handful of reporters for the trial.

The island is too rocky for an airstrip and is reached by flying to an outer Tahitian island and taking a 36-hour boat ride. Travellers are ferried through the surf to the tiny harbour on longboats.

Mr Christian was 15 when he allegedly raped a 12-year-old as two other boys held her down under some banyan trees, the prosecution told the court.

The charges against the Pitcairn men follow a report by a British policewoman stationed on the island in 1999. Some women who first gave evidence against the men have since withdrawn the charges, saying they were misled by police.