AFP bust alleged child-stealing ring in NSW, Queensland and WA

Three men have been arrested over an alleged plot to help women abduct children, portray their fathers as child abusers and then hide the children from authorities.

Key points:

  • Police said the group allegedly aimed to help women abduct and hide their children
  • They said 10 children had been safely returned home after being abducted
  • AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz said more people may have been involved without knowing it

Australian Federal Police investigators raided properties across Australia, including Dubbo and Grafton in NSW, Townsville in Queensland, and various locations in Perth.

A sailing boat was also searched.

Police said during their two-year investigation, 10 children had been safely returned after being abducted.

Five of them are linked to this particular group, police say.

Police allege a 64-year-old man, arrested in Grafton yesterday, acted as the key financier of the scheme, which aimed to help two women abduct and hide their children, in contravention of family law orders.

A 63-year old man, also arrested in Grafton, allegedly acted as the co-coordinator.

Police claim he sent money to the women and then used social media to portray the children's fathers as child abusers.

Both men will appear in Grafton Local Court today.

An 83-year old man has also been arrested in Townsville and charged over his alleged involvement.

He is due to appear in Townsville Local Court today.

Dr William Russell Massingham Pridgeon, a Grafton GP and the founder of the Australian Anti-Paedophile Party, which ran senate candidates in the 2016 federal election, was one of the four people arrested and charged on Wednesday morning.

It is alleged the rural doctor was the key financier and organiser of efforts assisting the two women and concealing them from authorities, in contravention of family law orders.

A second Grafton man, Patrick O'Dea, was allegedly a co-organiser of the scheme, who provided the women with money and used social media and other public forums to actively portray the fathers of their children as child abusers.
An 83-year-old Townsville man was charged for allegedly assisting the two Grafton men, while a prosecution notice was also served on a 78-year-old Perth woman.

The group is said to have used a variety of phone messaging apps to communicate and plan the alleged abductions.

Ten search warrants were executed in the NSW towns of Grafton and Dubbo on Wednesday, as well as in Townsville and Perth, at locations which included a yacht.

It is understood the group was fitting out the yacht and had concocted plans to use the yacht to covertly ferry children around the country, possibly taking them to New Zealand. However police discovered no firm plans relating to any specific children.

On Thursday The Courier-Mail reported the man took sailing lessons, and spent $140,000 to buy and fit-out the yacht, with plans to sail it to Tasmania "to help mothers and their children start a new life in New Zealand or Zimbabwe".

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