Men linked to alleged child stealing ring bailed
TWO men allegedly linked to an underground child stealing ring that helped mothers keep kids from their dads have been granted bail in a Brisbane court on the condition they wear a GPS trackers.
Australian Federal Police yesterday busted the alleged child-hiding network in Grafton, NSW, which they claim had been operating for a decade.
Grafton GP Dr William Russell Massingham Pridgeon, 64, who is the founder of the Australian Antipaedophile Party, is accused of being the mastermind behind the ring.
The network allegedly assisted mothers who snatched their children and claimed they were being sexually abused by their fathers.
Police say the allegations were baseless.
The adults involved in the syndicate communicated using encrypted messaging applications and the children were hidden, had their hair dyed, were given new names and new birthdays.
Pridgeon was on Thursday arrested in Grafton and charged with a spate of offences including stalking and conspiracy to defeat justice.
His associate, Patrick Finbar McGarry O'Dea, 63, was also arrested in Grafton.
He has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice, using a carriage service to menace or harass and illegally publish Family Court proceedings.
He is also facing a charge of aiding or abetting the illegal publication of Family Court proceedings.
Police will allege the former Rhodesian army officer drove the women and children across the country and portrayed the fathers as child abusers on social media and other public forums.
The court heard Pridgeon allegedly encouraged Mr O'Dea's online behaviour.
The pair were on Friday extradited to Queensland from south of the border and were granted bail in the Brisbane Magistrates Court.
Both men must wear GPS trackers.
Commonwealth prosecutor Christine Wilson objected to the bail, arguing both men would fail to show up for court.
" (Pridgeon) is unlikely to commit unrelated offences, but the level of sophistication, particularly with encrypted communication, is quite high," she said.
The court heard O'Dea's alleged offending was more serious than his co-accused as he allegedly harassed the father of two children that had gone missing with the help of the syndicate online.
"He has been very much involved in the transportation of individuals, in terms of the alleged child stealing, he really has taken a very active role overall, particularly in terms of the allegations of stalking in relation to the child's father," Ms Wilson told the court.
The Australian Federal Police allege they have recovered 10 children stolen in contravention of Family Court custody orders, five of them directly linked to the crime syndicate.
They earlier this week searched a $70,000 yacht, called 56 South, belonging to Dr Pridgeon.
Defence lawyer Andrew Owens told the court his client was planning on retiring and enjoying yachting since childhood.
He said there was no allegation Pridgeon was intending on using the yacht for criminal activity.
"The height of the case is that Mr Pridgeon (was) aiding the mothers to their eventual disappearance," Mr Owens said.
"There is allegations of financial help and assistance of Mr Pridgeon but not at (a specific) level."
Police believe around 40 people are involved in the sophisticated network, with more expected to be charged.
The court heard Pridgeon is facing a defamation trial in a Sydney court next week for accusing a father of being a paedophile.
It has previously been reported the man sold his home and liquidated assets to buy gold bullion.
The pair will return to court in December and will reside in Grafton while on bail.
They were required to surrender their passports and cannot visit Queensland, unless for court appearances, as a condition of the bail.