Devon Cult Canes Children to 'Cleanse Their Sins'_ Mother's Testimony Lifts Lid on Mysterious Commune _ Mail Online

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Devon Cult Canes Children to 'Cleanse Their Sins'_ Mother's Testimony Lifts Lid on Mysterious Commune _ Mail Online
  show ad The Devon cult that canes tiny children to‘cleanse their sins’: As social serviceslaunches an investigation, a mother’s shockingtestimony lifts the lid on the mysteriouscommune squatting on a farm 'Vicki' has lifted the lid on the commune she escaped from in 2005Then a vulnerable, single mother, she was ordered to beat her sonThe commune is linked to the controversial US Twelve Tribes cultForty children were taken in to care at two German branches recentlyThe NSPCC has now raised concerns with Stentwood Farm in Devon ByDavid Jones PUBLISHED: 22:25 GMT, 4 October 2013 | UPDATED: 23:18 GMT, 4 October 2013 19 shares26Viewcomments The first mists of autumn have descended on the Blackdown Hills, and next weekend one of the alternativecommunities who have gravitated to this moody, legend-steeped part of the West Country will attempt tolighten the spirits by staging a seasonal festival.The two-day event, at a rambling farmstead near the small Devon village of Dunkeswell, will feature suchlocal traditions as circle-dancing and apple-pressing to make fresh juice, and it will end with a play — ahomespun morality tale enacted by the group’s 20-odd children.To many villagers, news of this performance has come as a surprise. For although members of the TwelveTribes, a controversial, US-based cult, began squatting at abandoned Stentwood Farm 14 years ago, andhave built it into an impressive smallholding, with a quaint tea-room serving home-baked food, their childrenare so seldom permitted to leave the commune — hidden down a little-used lane — that few outsiders knewso many live there.  Harsh: Children in a German commune similar to the one being probed by social servicesin Devon While their baggy-smocked parents greet passing hikers and cyclists with a cautious wave as they do their chores, and the chosen few are permitted to sell their locally-renowned bread and cakes at markets andpop festivals (at the same time trying to recruit converts), for their sons and daughters, contact withnon-believers is severely restricted.Dressed puritanically in bonnets and canvas trousers, they are not permitted to attend local schools, joinsports teams or clubs, watch TV or use the internet, much less make friends beyond their closedcommunity. Indeed, they are forbidden from playing any game involving imagination or fantasy.To most parents, this controlled upbringing alone would be cause for concern. Yet it is not the darkest trialfacing the Twelve Tribes children, as they have to conform to the cult’s stultifying doctrine.In recent weeks, via an undercover TV documentary screened in Germany (where similar communes havebeen raided) and later by personal accounts of former members — including a British mother who escapedthe Devon commune with her son — details of the brutal discipline to which they are routinely subjectedhave started to emerge.Supposedly to cleanse them of sin and prepare them for salvation when the world ends (the cult insists itwill, within the next century or so), they are repeatedly ordered to bend over to be thrashed on their barebottoms with a willow rod soaked in resin to make it more pliable. And as these so-called ‘correction’ sessions are central to the cult’s beliefs — a mishmash of Judaism andChristianity devised by its messianic leader Eugene Spriggs, a former carnival showman from Tennessee — the children are often thrashed several times a day.  Founder: The Twelve Tribes cult was formed by US man Gene Spriggs, who believes instrict corporal punishment They are ‘spanked’ for even the most minor infraction, such as talking out of turn, and according to theformer Devon member, Vicki (who wants her surname withheld) the thrashings are very painful, leaving uglyred and purple weals. The cult’s aim, she says, is to break their children’s resistance and it begins almostfrom the day they are born. As babies, if they repeatedly drop their bottle, for example, or won’t stop crying, parents are told to grasptheir heads tightly and push them forwards and downwards — as if they were puppies being trained.Or they might be swaddled tightly to restrict their movement. Then, when they reach an age where they aredeemed capable of understanding instructions — which might be before their first birthday — the ritualbeatings begin.Eventually they become a meekly accepted part of a cult child’s daily life, so that, by the time they reachtheir early teens, they are so totally conditioned to being hit that they not only accept their punishment butactually ask for it to be administered when they have misbehaved, fearing God will punish them if they don’tatone for their sins.‘I want it to be clear we are not talking about the occasional smack for a naughty child here,’ Vicki told me.‘I think every parent has the right to discipline their child as they see fit, and use the occasional smack if they wish, but this is something entirely different. This is systematic conditioning — a sort of aversiontherapy of the most brutal kind.’  Correction: The cult claims the punishment sessions are designed to cleanse children of sin In Germany, the child protection authorities clearly agree. Shocked by scenes in this month’s TVdocumentary, immediately after it was screened they raided the cult’s two Bavarian communes and took all40 children into protective care, where they remain pending court proceedings.Given that the law prevents German parents from striking their children at all, and the film showed afour-year-old boy being led to a punishment cellar and caned until he screamed for mercy — simply for refusing to admit he was ‘tired’ — they are likely to remain in foster care.The NSPCC is sufficiently ‘anxious’ over claims that children are being similarly mistreated at StentwoodFarm that it has alerted Devon social services. This week a spokesman said it had launched a ‘review’ inconjunction with the police, and the Mail understands that they plan to inspect the commune.However, the 2004 Children Act allows British parents more latitude than Germany’s, permitting ‘reasonablepunishment’, and as no action was taken when Vicki first made allegations of child abuse, after leaving thecult in 2005, she fears the beatings will continue with impunity.In the light of the story she told me this week, this would beggar belief.Like many of Twelve Tribes’ 3,000 worldwide devotees, Vicki was vulnerable when she was enticed into itsgentle embrace nine years ago. Then in her 20s, unemployed, and caring alone for her six-year-old son,she was a disillusioned Christian searching for fulfilment. Attracted by the cult’s website, which promised a new way of living that would restore the spiritual andcommunal values of Israel’s srcinal 12 tribes, she made visits from her home in Bournemouth to the Devoncommune — always greeted with hugs and fruit in her room — and, in the summer of 2004, she wasbaptised.Up to that point, she says, she had not been told about the beatings, and certainly not that she would haveto thrash her son. Whenever guests came to stay, members made sure they couldn’t hear the swishing of willow and muffled the children’s cries.But soon after her induction her allotted ‘shepherd’ — a bearded American named Lawrence Stern whoremains among the commune’s hierarchy — told her it was time to begin ‘correcting’ her boy.
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