Police probe allegation of physical child abuse at Christian sect near Exeter
Police are investigating whether children are being beaten with canes at a religious community in East Devon.
A Devon and Cornwall Police spokesperson has confirmed that officers are working with Devon County Council to “thoroughly review” recently received information about the Twelve Tribes community which runs the Common Loaf Bakery at Dunkeswell near Honiton.
The investigation follows concerns raised to officials at the county council’s Children’s Services by the NSPCC.
The children’s charity approached the council after the community’s belief in their right to use the cane as a form of punishment was highlighted in a recent report by The Independent newspaper.
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The article followed the removal of 40 children from two communities at Klosterzimmern and Wornitz in Germany, following an investigation by an undercover reporter.
The Honiton community is one of several across the world belonging to the Christian organisation, which was founded in the US.
The sect follows teachings in the old and new testaments of the Christian Bible as “God’s direct word” and says its vision is “to form a new nation – the twelve tribe nation of Israel”.
As well as believing in the right to use the cane, the movement also teaches that “mulitculturalism increases murder, crime and prejudice” and that “homosexual behaviour is immoral and can be mortally dangerous”.
On its website, the organisation explained “because we love them (our children) we spank them”.
It continued: “We have seen from experience that discipline keeps a child from becoming mean-spirited and disrespectful of authority.”
A member of the group, which call themselves the Community at Stentwood Farm, said he had no comment to make on the issue.
And when an East Devon resident raised concerns to the Echo last year about the morality of the group’s belief system, which sells bread at various markets including in Honiton, no one from the group would comment.
However the spokesperson did say they hand out leaflets on their stalls about their community and they are open about who they are.
Tony McCollum, Honiton Market manager, who has known the community through his professional role for about three years, said the revelations about the police investigation came as a surprise to him.
He added: “You couldn’t ask for nicer people. They seem very family orientated – I find it hard to believe they would mistreat their children.”
Phillip Noyes, director of Strategy and Development at the NSPCC, said: “Caning of children or the threat of caning is a completely unacceptable method of disciplinary action to take with any child.
“This was quite rightly outlawed by schools in England many years ago and we would always encourage alternative methods of discipline as opposed to hitting or beating.
“Children grow up to become healthy, confident adults when they are loved and cared for by adults who have clear boundaries and adopt consistent discipline.”
A police spokesperson, added: “Devon and Cornwall Police and Devon County Council are working together to thoroughly review the recent information received about the welfare of children in the Honiton area.
“At this time, this is a safeguarding matter and Devon County Council remain the lead agency.
“Devon and Cornwall Police are assisting safeguarding partners in reviewing information held to date.
“No allegations have been received at this time nor is any formal investigation currently underway.”