Kidnap Ring Plans To Take Kids To New Zealand: AFP
A kidnapping ring that helped jilted mothers abduct their children was modifying a boat to smuggle their captives to Tasmania and then on to other nations, the Australian Federal Police say.
Three men and a woman have been charged for their alleged role in the group, which helped parents abduct and conceal their children - sometimes for years - by dyeing their hair and setting up false identities.
Among them is Grafton GP William Russell Massingham Pridgeon, who founded the Australian Anti-Paedophile Party.
Pridgeon is accused of having a central role in the group's 10-person "nucleus" but the AFP believe many more "like-minded" people and sympathisers helped the group in its mission to contravene Family Court orders.
"This has demonstrated a complete disregard for the rule of law in this country and the decision of the courts," Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz told reporters in Sydney on Thursday.
"The actions of these people is not to protect children - what it does is potentially endanger the safety and wellbeing of these children."
The network used supporters who provided funding, food, accommodation and transport during the alleged abductions.
The network allegedly used an internal cash economy, encrypted messaging apps and fraudulent identity documents to evade detection for a decade. International links, in South Africa and New Zealand, were also forged by the group, though the full extent of its reach has not been disclosed.
Investigators searched locations in Grafton, Dubbo, Perth, Townsville and, in Perth, they found a yacht that was being modified.
"What we think that vessel was likely to be used for was to convey children from where it was moored in Fremantle to Tasmania and then perhaps onto New Zealand," AFP major crime and operation commander Justine Gough said.
Pridgeon, 64, and another alleged member Patrick O'Dea, 63, faced Grafton Local Court on Thursday.
Pridgeon faces two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice and dealing in the proceeds of crime to the value of $100,000.
O'Dea, who is accused of being a co-organiser, also tried to portray the fathers of the children as child abusers on social media and other public forums, federal police allege.
He has been charged with two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice, using a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence, and publishing an account of proceedings.
Both were refused bail on Thursday at Grafton Local Court and will be extradited to face Brisbane Magistrates Court on Friday.
Arthur Ernest Doublebay, 83, of Rasmussen, appeared in Townsville Local Court, where he was granted bail on Thursday.
Doubleday was charged with two counts with dealing in the proceeds of crime.
He will appear the same court on December 20 for a committal hearing. A 78-year-old Perth woman has been served with a court attendance notice for December.
Detectives say the investigation, Operation Noetic, is ongoing and there could be more arrests.