National MP Nick Smith has no problem with the Exclusive Brethren‘s involvement in the election despite their attempt to sue him for $3.2 million when he took the side of a family in one of this country’s highest-profile custody disputes.
Dr Smith spoke out about Nelson couple Stan and Julia Field who were excommunicated by the sect and had to fight to regain custody of their three children held by their Exclusive Brethren grandparents for 3 years until 1993.
The Weekend Herald gave the children’s side of the story for the first time through the eldest son, Vincent, 25, who lives near his father in Perth.
Vincent said he was angry at the sect’s attempts to influence politics here and other countries because of the way their leadership condoned the breaking-up of families.
Vincent told how the sect’s leader at the time of the dispute, Sydney accountant John Hales, telephoned his grandfather claiming the Lord’s will would see his parents die in a car accident before they took the children back. John Hales has since died and his son, Bruce, has taken over as leader.
Dr Smith, who was pleased to hear Vincent was doing well, said “the Exclusive Brethren sued me for $3.2 million for supporting Vincent’s mum and dad” and described the custody dispute as “outrageous”.
Dr Smith and an Exclusive Brethren member ended up reaching an out-of-court settlement for the defamation suit.
He said members of the Exclusive Brethren had since come to him and apologised for what happened, saying there had been changes in the way such family situations were dealt with.
“Now, obviously, I felt a little perturbed about all these allegations that National was in bed with the Exclusive Brethren given the fact that at the time I stood up for the Fields against the Exclusive Brethren, the Labour Party ridiculed the concerns I expressed.”
And Dr Smith said he had no problem with their foray into the political scene.
“I think the issue has been overcooked. I’m pleased to live in a society where people are free to express their political opinions. If that gets up the nose of the Government, well, too bad – that’s the nature of a democracy.”