Search at Twelve Tribes properties for remains of stillborns
Police have begun searching for human remains at properties at Bigga and Picton in NSW owned by the secretive fundamentalist religious sect, the Twelve Tribes.
NSW Police confirmed that crime scene warrants were executed at the two properties by the Blue Mountains Police area command on Monday.
The remote 78.5ha Bigga property, which has no running water or electricity, is only used when members are sent into exile.
A police spokesman said no remains have been found but investigations would continue at both sites this week.
It is understood they are searching for the remains of stillborn babies.
Police have been investigating the high number of stillbirths within the community, which shuns modern medical care.
The operation follows a search of the sect's Picton property in Sydney's southwest by StrikeForce Nenegal on February 19.
Detectives from Springwood Police searched the Tribe's Peppercorn Creek Farm property for six hours, collecting documents and diary entries as evidence.
The Twelve Tribes is a fundamentalist Christian sect known for its harsh discipline of children and medical neglect of members. It has been the subject of a NSW Police investigation since September 2019.
The sect, a registered religious charity, runs cafes in Sydney and the Blue Mountains and is part of an international network of about 40 Twelve Tribes communities/
Members follow the teachings of Eugene Spriggs, a former carnival showman, whose controversial preachings include that homosexual rights encourages paedophilia, slavery was good for black people and women's liberation has damaged society.
The group has been in Australia since the 1990s and has about 90 members in communes in Picton, Katoomba and Coledale near Wollongong.
In 2019, as part of a special report in the group, ex-members told the Sunday Telegraph the group was rife with abusive practices, from demanding members 'beat' children with a thin rod from the age of six-months, to failing to provide adequate access to medical and dental care.
Because the Twelve Tribes shuns modern medicine and home schools the children, and members give over all their wealth on joining, access to outside services and financial resources was difficult, said ex-member Rosemary Cruzado.
Mrs Cruzado who spent 14 years in the Twelve Tribes sect, lost a baby during pregnancy and told The Sunday Telegraph: "I believe that's because I didn't have enough resources to go and see a proper specialist to actually tell me what was going on."
Ex-members who spoke to the Telegraph said there was a high number of stillbirths in the communities.
Or Mathias, who was born and raised in the group, said children were beaten repeatedly as part of their upbringing, home-schooling was inadequate and children were sent to work from as young as five in the group's businesses.
The group's 300-plus page child-rearing manual demands children who are not unquestioningly obedient be spanked for any breach with a 50cm thin rod, with "training" beginning at six month of age.
While the group states on its website "because we love our children we do spank them", it has repeatedly denied allegations of child abuse, saying the rod is not used to abuse or harm children, only to "discipline", but former members we spoke to dispute this.
The Twelve Tribes have been dogged by allegations of child beating and child labour abuses overseas, one of the most high profile cases in Germany 2013, when a documentary showed children in a local branch being beaten so badly, the government removed them.
In Australia, members live communally in accommodation forming part of the Tribes' property portfolio, including Balmoral House in Katoomba and Peppercorn Creek Farm in Picton, where a large Georgian-style home is under construction. They spend the bulk of their time working for free in its commercial enterprises.
A registered charity for religious purposes, the Twelve Tribe's Australian holding company, The Community Apostolic Order, lists assets worth $5.64 million and seven businesses including the popular Yellow Deli cafe in Katoomba and Common Ground bakery in Picton, all of which receive GST concession, fringe benefit tax rebate and income tax exemption. It also owns a six-bedroom property at Razorhurst near the Picton farm bought in 2016 for $1.475 million.