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Son breaks his silence in Rinehart battle
Steve Pennells/The West Australian John Hancock.

The family feud ripping apart the Hancock dynasty took a dramatic turn yesterday when Gina Rinehart's estranged son launched a blistering attack on his multi-billionaire mother.

John Hancock's decision to speak publicly has shattered the secrecy which has surrounded the feud since he joined his two sisters in legal action against their mother five months ago.

It also came a day after Mrs Rinehart's lawyers told a Sydney court that the mining magnate had genuine concerns "for the safety of her children, her grandchildren and herself".

Mr Hancock said he was prompted to speak after his mother used a security consultancy report- code-named Project Tara - to argue that her four children and five grandchildren faced heightened security risks, including kidnapping, murder and terrorism as a result of publicity surrounding the case.

"I can support my wife and children in a modest manner from the work I do but I can't provide the level of funds required to deal with security issues - real or imagined - associated with being the son of a woman worth more than $20 billion," he said in a statement.

"When my mother buys a few hundred million dollars worth of Fairfax, it's going to draw some attention.

"But she won't share a penny to help protect her grandchildren from the risks she - the trustee of our family trust - is creating by her own actions.

"Even the production of this expensive report causes more problems - her very conduct puts us in more jeopardy.

"What more can I do than communicate to any kidnappers out there - over my dead body and you will be wasting your time anyway. If you think you're going to get anything from my mother, good luck."

The extraordinary statement is only the second time Mr Hancock has spoken publicly about his long-running battle with his mother.

John, Lang Hancock's only male heir, was originally seen as the one most likely to take on the reins at Hancock Prospecting, a view fuelled by his role as family spokesman during his mother's protracted fight with Rose Porteous over the Hancock fortune and his relocation to South Africa to work for Iscor, who at the time was Hancock Prospecting's partner in the multibillion-dollar Hope Downs Iron Ore mines.

But the pair had a dramatic falling out nine years ago when he changed his surname from Rinehart to Hancock. At the time, he described his mother as "a very powerful and controlling person", saying their relationship was "complex".

He is now involved with his two sisters - Hope Welker and Bianca Rinehart - in a protracted legal battle to have their mother removed as head of the family trust which was set up by the late Lang Hancock before he died.

The trust owns almost a quarter of her company, Hancock Prospecting.

Little else is known about the potentially explosive case and Mr Hancock and his sisters are banned from speaking to anyone about the details because of a series of all-encompassing suppression orders Mrs Rinehart has obtained since the stoush began last September.

The existing suppression order on the case is due to expire on March 9, subject to orders by the High Court.

But Mr Hancock's comments and court documents filed by Mrs Rinehart on Thursday - including personal emails from his sisters - suggest that the children have been cut off from the Hancock flow of riches.

This could affect their ability to wage a lengthy court battle against their mother, whose personal worth is valued at up to $20 billion.

On July 30 last year, weeks before taking Mrs Rinehart to court, Hope emailed her mother requesting that she be given three full-time staff members, including a bodyguard - costing between $130,000 and $380,000 a year.

"I'm down to my last $60,000 and you're only paying my husband $1 a year," she wrote.

Mrs Rinehart's reply is not included in the court documents but in an emotional email sent the following day, Hope pleaded with her mother to remain in the US, saying she could not live in Australia or Singapore, where Mrs Rinehart was "selfishly pressuring me to move… just because you hate America".

"It's not fair on me to have to live there and horribly unfair for me to have to expose the kids to that," she wrote.

"It's hard enough being a kid, let alone the peer pressure that comes from being the wealthiest one in the country."

She said the whole world believed Mrs Rinehart was going to be wealthier than Bill Gates.

"It means we all need bodyguards and very safe homes!! Especially the children who are small and easily targeted for kidnap."

A week later, Mrs Rinehart's eldest daughter, Bianca, emailed her to tell her about last year's bomb hoax ordeal in Mosman, Sydney, saying: "the fact is although we were not targeted this time, we are, by all accounts the highest risk family in all of Australia for future similar attacks".

The release on Thursday of the 44-page security consultancy report prepared for Mrs Rinehart elevated these concerns and upped the stakes in the already acrimonious battle between Australia's richest person and her three eldest children.

It was sent to the children last week and detailed the personal circumstances and living arrangements of each of them, comparing their safety with case studies and security incidents involving the Beckhams, David Letterman, Victor Chang and Tony Windsor.

The report was compiled by Control Risks, a global risk consultancy which normally specialises in managing political and security risks in complex and hostile environments .

"Lifting the suppression order on the current matter risks exposing the children and grandchildren to serious security risks," the report warned.

It said the family's "combination of wealth, youth and acrimony" was likely to sustain media interest and significantly raise the public profile of Ms Rinehart's children.

Aside from kidnapping, robbery and murder risks, the children would become a target for "citizen journalists" and social media.

"Crowd sourcing" is where individuals using mobile phones pursue reports on incidents and the activities of other individuals by feeding real-time information to social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube and MySpace."

This had high security implications because their movements could be tracked by "members of the public and criminals".

The report did not mention on what evidence it based its assessment or whether the consultants had access to suppressed details in the court case on which to base their findings.

In an affidavit presented alongside it, Mrs Rinehart's lawyer, Paul McCann, said she believed that lifting the suppression order would intensify media interest in the proceedings and her wealth and increase the risk to her personal safety and that of her children and grandchildren.

"I have known Mrs Rinehart for many years . . . I am aware from personal knowledge that she has acted responsibly regarding her children's security and importantly, has endeavoured to keep them out of the media whenever possible," Mr McCann said.

This week, Forbes magazine named Mrs Rinehart the richest woman in Asia, estimating her a personal fortune at $16.8 billion, saying she was well on the way to becoming the richest woman in the world.

Mr Hancock is believed to have left the country with his family last night in the wake of the security report.

Ms Rinehart's other three daughters - Bianca, Hope and Ginia - are spread out across the globe.

'To any kidnappers, if you think you'll get anything from my mother, good luck'" *John Hancock *