Father tells of rescuing kids from West Coast cult
New Zealand — For hundreds of people living in a cut-off community called Gloriavale on the West Coast, Neville Cooper speaks the word of God.
For his son Phil, Neville Cooper was a controlling, manipulative, sexual deviant who set out to dominate every aspect of his life – from who he could marry to what he named his children.
Phil Cooper has told his story in a book, Sins of the Father, which has been released recently.
Australian-born Cooper moved to New Zealand as a five-year-old with his father, his mother Gloria and 10 siblings in 1967.
Neville Cooper had already set himself up as a Christian preacher and was invited to speak around the country. However, his brand of fundamentalist preachings saw him at odds with mainstream religious groups.
He ended up establishing a community at Haupiri on the West Coast, inland from Greymouth – where the group of about 500 people still live and obey his word as law.
They are known as the Cooperites.
As a head-strong teenager, Phil Cooper clashed with his father, left Gloriavale and moved back to Australia. But without the support of the community or his siblings, the 16-year-old returned to the West Coast and tried to be an obedient son.
The move proved difficult as Cooper disagreed with his father’s tight control over the community.
Women were only allowed to wear long modest blue dresses, men were leaders of their families, while children’s names had to reflect the philosophies of Neville Cooper.
Phil Cooper says the use of sexual images and movies were prevalent among the older men.
He says he had to endure watching his wife being fondled by his father and young girls were sometimes told to join community elders in hot tubs.
In 1995 Neville Cooper was jailed for almost a year on sexual abuse charges. He was convicted on the testimony of his son and some young women who had fled the compound.
Those who stayed in Gloriavale steadfastly supported their leader through his imprisonment.
At the age of 27, Cooper – a father of five children aged between eight years and 16 months – walked away from the compound and his family.
Shortly after leaving, he was told by a community elder he was banned from having any communication with his children.
Cooper says he was heartbroken and resolved to kidnap them so they could live with him.
What followed was an outrageous night-time raid.
Phil Cooper said he slipped back into the compound grounds, gathered his sleeping children into his car and sped away with them.
“When I look back on it now, it was crazy. As I’ve got older I realise it was a bit gung-ho,” he said.
The family moved around the country hiding from Cooper’s father and supporters before fleeing to the United States and then eventually settled back in Australia.
His wife Sandra was left behind, but twice Cooper was able to rescue her from the compound, only to have her return on her own – leaving her children with their father.
She was quoted in the book as saying she felt that only by having one of the children’s parents stay at Gloriavale, would they later be accepted into Heaven.
For the first years Cooper and his children were away from the community they survived on almost nothing, with the children helping him build furniture in the evenings to sell the following day.
He has now remarried and built up a multi-million dollar design business in Australia.
He said telling his story was a hard but cathartic experience.
Two years after Cooper left the community, his father, known to his followers as Hopeful Christian, moved the group to the South Island’s West Coast and named the new commune Gloriavale after his late wife.
Contact between Cherish, Cooper and the four children who live with him has been “totally impossible”, Cooper said. At one stage son Israel was in brief contact with his younger sister through internet service Skype.
Then, last month, came a phone call and Cooper heard Cherish’s voice for the first time.
“I picked up the phone and it was her on the other end … I quickly said before she hung up: ‘Dad loves you and would love to see you.’”
Cherish is currently in India with her mother and grandfather at a school the community set up.
Cooper has written a book, Sins of the Father, about his experiences.
The Gloriavale community produces Pure Vitality deer velvet, exports fishmeal and sphagnum moss products worldwide, runs a plane charter service and operates the only fixed-wing and helicopter maintenance company on the West Coast.
Shops pressured to remove cult book
Members of a religious cult on the West Coast appear to have pressured at least one local store into pulling a book from their shelves that argues their leader is a manipulative sexual deviant.
The book, Sins of the Father, tells the story of Phil Cooper who escaped from his father Neville’s strict religious community and in a daring night-time raid rescued his five children from the sect.
Neville Cooper, who now goes by the name Hopeful Christian, was jailed for 18 months for sex offences against his son and some young women in the community.
Phil Cooper told the story of his life growing up in the cult, detailed his father’s offences and revealed how he and his children were able to escape the oppressive cult in the book that was released to stores this week.
About 500 people live in the cut-off community called the Gloriavale Christian Community at Haupiri on the West Coast, inland from Greymouth.
The group regularly shop in Greymouth and they run one of the largest dairy farms on the West Coast called Canaan Farming Ltd, which has dairy cattle, deer, ostriches and sheep.
The book was pulled temporarily from the shelves at The Warehouse in Greymouth after some of the Gloriavale members visited the store and spoke with a team leader, manager Craig Bryant told the Greymouth Star.
Phil Cooper, who is in New Zealand for the book launch in Christchurch last night, said he was not surprised the group wanted the book hidden from view.
“My dad’s running scared. Financially he’s going to suffer from this and he knows it. But (the book) wasn’t written for that motive.”
Phil Cooper said the more the group attempt to cover up the existence of the book, the more publicity it was going to receive.
Neville Cooper’s grandson Israel Cooper, who along with his father helped author Fleur Beale write the book, said he understood that business people did not want to bite the hand that fed them.
However, he hoped freedom of information would be more important than money.
Reports like this often encourages people who have loved ones caught up in a cult to look for help. Too, sometimes people who are themselves involved in a high-demand group or relationship recognize certain situations that closely resemble their own experiences — often leading them, too, to look further.
• Our CultFAQ.org — Frequently Asked Questions about Cults website includes guidelines for selecting a cult expert.
• Additional information is listed at out Cult Experts website.
• If you are (or a loved one is) involved in a Christianity-based high-demand group, please see our research resources on abusive churches and on cults of Christianity. Very helpful is the online book, Churches That Abuse, by Dr. Ronald Enroth.