Tue, Feb 03, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Rape case testing British claim to Pitcairn Island

AFP AND AP , AUCKLAND AND WELLINGTON

Lawyers for a group of Pitcairn Island men accused of involvement in decades of sex abuse produced documents dating back to 1838 in an Australian court yesterday to argue that Britain has no jurisdiction over the case.

Thirteen islanders face multiple sex charges with women and girls as young as three years old in a case that is testing London's claim to Pitcairn. Some of the accusations date back 40 years.

The tiny, isolated South Pacific island, 2,160km southeast of Tahiti and 5,300km from New Zealand, is administered by Britain, although residents have resisted British laws since settling there after the 1789 mutiny on the HMS Bounty.

Most of the residents are descendants of the famous mutineers on the Bounty. Defense lawyers claim the islanders severed all ties with Britain when they burned the Bounty on Jan. 23, 1790. They have been arguing that the accused should be tried by the Pitcairn community.

In the Pitcairn Supreme Court, which is sitting in South Auckland, former Australian judge Adrian Cook said that he had uncovered historic documents in England that were "immensely significant."

Cook, who is representing seven of the accused, said the papers included acquisition documents drawn up by Captain Elliott of the British warship HMS Fly, which visited the islands in November 1838.

He described the matter as of fundamental importance and requested more time to study the documents he had found in England last month, adding he also needed to resolve the issue of copyright on the documents and arrange for expert opinion from England.

As well as the documents relating to the Fly's visit, Cook said he would also offer as evidence written reports to the British Admiralty from warships which visited the islands between 1830 and 1910.

The court granted Cook a delay until March 12, when he must file new documentary evidence. Pro-secutors were given until March 26 to reply and the court would deliver a decision on April 19.

Prosecutors want the trial held in New Zealand because it would be virtually impossible on Pitcairn, which has no airstrip or harbor and insufficient accommodation for court officials.

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