The Australian-born founder of a secretive and controversial New Zealand religious community has reportedly died.
Gloriavale Christian Community founder Hopeful Christian, aged in his 90s, died on Tuesday after a battle with cancer, Stuff has reported.
Christian, an evangelical preacher who changed his name from Neville Cooper after founding the fundamentalist community in the late 1960s, was a convicted sex offender.
He was jailed in 1995 on three charges of indecent assault at the Springbank Christian Community – an earlier version of the church – in the 1980s.
Comment was declined by the community over the phone and a statement has been requested by email.
The isolated community in the South Island’s West Coast region has faced investigations in recent years, including a police probe in 2015, although authorities have declined, on privacy grounds, to specify what type of allegations they were looking into.
Charities Services also began investigating the fundamentalist group the same year, following reports members were leaving amid allegations of forced marriage, sexual and physical abuse and forced family separations.
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That 18-month probe found Gloriavale’s leadership was working to fix legal issues around members being forced to hand over everything upon joining and other complaints.
But Charities Services found allegations of sexual abuse were best handled by police and officers were this year reportedly conducting dozens of interviews in the area.
The community, near Greymouth, has more than 500 members, including 55 families.
The old-fashioned and standardised clothes worn by its members were cited as an inspiration for the costumes in the TV adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale by designer Ane Crabtree.