Alleged abuse, forced separation of families, poor healthcare, unsafe working conditions for young children. A culture of domination and control.

Yet the Charities Services says these allegations from dozens of former Glorivale members are not “oppressive” enough for it to investigate.

Stuff earlier revealed the Gloriavale Leavers Support Trust met with Charities Services last December and presented a letter signed by 35 recent Gloriavale leavers asking the agency to open another investigation.

Published in Stuff

The letter set out a host of concerns, including alleged physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, sick children being left alone because their parents had to work, no private space for families, and pressure for members to lie to outside agencies such as Oranga Tamariki and police.

As one leaver earlier said: “The people at Gloriavale are not free. They are denied basic human rights.”

On August 17, Charities Services general manager Natasha Weight told the trust it would not open another investigation at this stage.

The letter, seen by Stuff, said the trust’s letter was subject to “robust consideration” by senior Charities Services staff.

All the information was considered with “an open mind”. It included complaints and concerns assessed during the regulator’s earlier investigation completed in 2016.

Weight said a registered charity’s behaviour needed to be of a “very serious and systemic nature” to reach the level of oppression.

“While we acknowledge that the behaviour outlined in the complaint is upsetting for those involved, we believe the incidents do not reach the required level of seriousness to be considered oppressive.”

A factor in the regulator’s decision was the preparedness of the Christian Church Community Trust – the registered charity behind the community – to engage with Charities Services to address any issues raised after the 2016 investigation.

“We understand that this is not the outcome that you were hoping for. However … we can only undertake investigations where we believe there is clear evidence of serious wrongdoing as determined by the [Charities] Act,” the letter to the trust said.

Gloriavale Leavers’ Support Trust manager Liz Gregory was “extremely disappointed” there would not be another investigation.

“If they can’t apply the definition of oppression to Gloriavale, then they may as well remove that provision for investigation. There is no group in our nation more oppressive than Gloriavale.”

Gregory said she had received a flurry of phone calls and emails after informing leavers of the news.

“Some said they had been weeping at the news, because they know their loved ones inside Gloriavale are also wanting change. They believe a properly run investigation would reveal a raft of major issues.”

Leaver Hope Harrison said people in prison “have more freedom and less oppression” than people at Gloriavale.

“In Gloriavale they can’t control where they live, work sit at the tables, furniture in their bedroom, what shoes they wear. How they wear their clothing. What time their meals are, whether they go to meal or miss it.”

It comes after a spokeswoman for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care, established in 2018, confirmed it had Gloriavale on its radar, and an investigation was possible.

Weight confirmed Charities Services had no plans to undertake a further investigation into the Christian Church Community Trust.

“Charities Services initiates investigations into registered charities when we become aware of breaches of the Charities Act 2005. More serious matters of a criminal nature would be investigated by the police, and we would be guided by the outcome of those investigations.

“Similarly, if the royal commission makes a determination that provides evidence of serious wrongdoing, then Charities Services would further examine those findings in terms of our mandate.”

Charities Services had looked into the activities of the Gloriavale trust and maintained a “close interest” in its activities for several years, Weight said.

There had been a “high level of cooperation” by the trustees with Charities Services, and the trust had implemented several changes to address issues identified under the Charities Act.

The 2016 investigation found trustees may have acted in a manner that constituted serious wrongdoing under the Charities Act, particularly when it came to the handling of physical and sexual assault allegations and members wanting to leave the community.

Charities Services decided it was in the public interest for the trust to remain on the Charities Register, adding there was a high level of cooperation and genuine interest from the trustees to act in the best interests of the trust and the Gloriavale community.

By Sam Sherwood
Published in Stuff
07 Sept 2020