New twist to tug-of-war over cult’s assets

The Press, July 23, 2003
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Source: “Press, The; Christchurch, New Zealand”

An independent party is poised to enter the tug-of-war over the assets of a former religious cult in prime wine-growing country near Waipara.

An application will be filed in the High Court soon for Tower Trust Ltd to become the sole trustee of the Full Gospel Mission Trust.

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Kerry Ayers, principal of Christchurch firm Helmore Ayers, who revealed the twist in the saga yesterday, said the trustees felt the appointment of Tower Trust would “assist in resolving any outstanding issues prior to termination of the trust”.

Assets include a 189ha forestry block near Murchison and a 48ha property bounded by State Highway 1 on the south bank of the Waipara River, including the fort-like headquarters of the sect known as Camp David.

The foundations of the sect collapsed in 1995 after it was revealed the cult’s founder, Douglas Metcalf, was an adulterer.

Metcalf lived in a six-bedroom house on the Waipara property, while many of his followers, who poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into the camp and its lifestyle annually, lived in tents and buses, some for more than 20 years.

He died in 1989, and the properties have been in trust since. Sixty-eight former followers of Metcalf, fearing the platform was being laid to start another religious sect at the property, petitioned the trust to put the cult’s assets in the hands of a barrister so an application could be made to sell up and have the proceeds distributed to charity.

The petitioners were concerned others who had not contributed to the trust would move in and start up the church again.

The trust voted to take the matter to a barrister last August.

The trustees have now decided that “the most appropriate step is for a large, experienced, statutory trust company to be appointed sole trustees of the trust to complete its administration,” said Mr Ayers.

The Government, through the Crown Law Office, had been kept informed of developments, and would be asked to comment on the court application when it was made, Mr Ayers said.

A former member, Marie Squires, is frustrated at the latest development and annoyed former members found out from The Press that the affairs of the trust were being handed over.

“What they are doing is exactly what we asked them to do 18 months ago. It could have happened quietly and quickly then without the cost and without the grief former members have had to endure by being confronted by a past they thought they had put behind them,” she said.

Mrs Squires said the trustees had cost the Trust a lot of money in lawyers fees over the past 12 months. “There will be no winners in this. Everyone will be a loser.”

A trustee, Joanna Hingston, said the decision to put the assets in the hands of an independent trustee was the “final step in a long journey” to find a resolution.


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Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday July 24, 2003.
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