Grafton GP in custody

Doctor, pensioner refused bail and extradited over alleged involvement in child stealing conspiracy ring

POLICE RAIDS: Dr William Pridgeon with Australian Federal Police in the Grafton CBD on Wednesday.

TWO men alleged to be members of a criminal syndicate involved in some of Australia’s longest-running child stealing cases, assisting the parental abduction of children across the country, have appeared in Grafton Local Court.

Dr William Russell Massingham Pridgeon, 64, and Patrick O’Dea, 63, were both refused bail by Magistrate Roger Prowse, who cited the seriousness of the alleged offences and the unacceptable risk they would either fail to appear for future court dates, or contact potential witnesses or victims involved in the case.

On Wednesday, Australian Federal Police charged Dr Pridgeon with two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice and one count of dealing in the proceeds of crime, while Mr O’Dea was 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.

However, all of these charges were withdrawn and dismissed by the Crown Prosecution in court, with a warrant served on the two men to be extradited to Queensland, where it is expected similar charges will be filed.

Mr Prowse ordered Dr Pridgeon and Mr O’Dea remain in the custody of the AFP to appear in Brisbane Magistrate Court today.

Three people in Queensland and a West Australian woman were also charged through Operation Noetic – a complex two-year investigation that included raiding a yacht allegedly be-

ing refitted to spirit children and their mothers overseas.

Pensioners and many professionals are said to have been part of the alleged conspiracy, which allegedly involved the use of the same encrypted applications used by terrorists and organised crime gangs.

Some of the text messages were sent using Signal, which deletes messages after they are read.

Some of the children, and mothers who had made unfounded allegations that their partners sexually abused their children, had been off the grid and missing for years.

The Courier-Mail has been aware of aspects of Operation Noetic for more than nine months but has not published details, at the request of the AFP, to protect the integrity of the investigation.

It will be alleged Dr Pridgeon, 64, the founder of the Australian Antipaedophile Party, which ran Senate candidates in the 2016 poll, used Commonwealth resources and a network of up to 40 people to help women and their children go on the run in contravention of Family Court orders.

Dr Pridgeon, a GP in Grafton, is alleged to have paid some supporters in gold bullion to help up to three women – and potentially others – escape police attention. He was arrested at his Grafton residence on Wednesday.

Police will also allege he spent up $70,000 to purchase the yacht and another $70,000 on getting the vessel seaworthy, and that he planned to sail it to Tasmania to help mothers and their children eventually start a new life in New Zealand or Zimbabwe.

He also undertook sailing lessons.

Police believe he had liquidated his assets and at one point had 11kg of gold bullion, worth about $750,000, at a storage facility in Martin Place, Sydney.

Dr Pridgeon allegedly wrote scripts in other patients’ names to give mothers and children access to drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule.

He allegedly performed minor surgery on one of the mothers.

It will be alleged his friend, Mr O’Dea, a pensioner, was appointed to drive throughout the country to quickly pick up women and children.

Mr O’Dea, who was once in the Rhodesian army, has also been accused of stalking and threatening to harm a father who had his children returned to him after several years.

It will be alleged Mr O’Dea would drive for days across the country, either getting the women and children to a destination or tag-teaming with other members of the network for transport.

A woman, 78, is expected to face charges in Western Australia for her alleged role in helping one of the mothers escape police detection.

A North Queensland man, 83, who cannot be named for legal reasons, has also been charged with financing some of the women being helped by the alleged syndicate.

AFP lead investigator Sergeant



Darren Williamson told The Courier-Mail that police would allege all those charged and served were “issue-based motivated”.

“We call it a syndicate... (and) it probably reflects exactly what we are looking at,” he said.

“There is a degree of organisation for this network. There’s some clandestine way in which this syndicate operates, encrypted applications, the cash economy.

“There’s a connection between a series of Family Law Recovery matters.”

Police believe Pridgeon is the financier of the syndicate.

“We will allege he provides the financial assistance and the resources to parents who parentally abduct their children,” Sgt Williamson said.

“We will allege he funded the movement of the network.

“So if parents and children went into hiding, he provided his vehicle. He provided a car to move these people around the country.

“He’s also give them provisions, (like) food, (and) medical support, and everything suggests so far indicates that it was off the books.”

Sgt Williamson said Dr Pridgeon, who is facing defamation action and is due in court next week for accusing a father of being a paedophile, started liquidating assets, including selling his house.

He then bought gold bullion. “Since we identified the gold we will allege he paid other elements of this syndicate in gold bullion,” Sgt Williamson said.

He said O’Dea received “referrals” on a Facebook page from mothers who asked for help.

Police will allege a pattern of behaviour among those involved emerged during the two-year investigation.

Asked how many people were involved, Sgt Williamson said: “We’re talking quite a large number of people Australia-wide.

“The syndicate, I would put down to half a dozen to 10. The rest are more your advocates and supporters.”

Sgt Williamson said he believed there were others who had received help, and he called for people with information to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz said investigators had disrupted an organised and well-resourced group that demonstrated a complete disregard for the rule of law and decisions of the courts.

“The actions of these people are not ensuring child protection. They are endangering the safety and ongoing wellbeing of children for selfish or misguided reasons,” she said.

“During this two-year investigation, 10 missing children have been safely located in the custody of a parent who had taken them. Five of these are believed to be linked to this group of people.

“We believe this group has sought assistance from other people – some who may be unaware of their involvement – so we are urging anyone with any knowledge about these activities to come forward to the AFP.”

Source : PressReader.com

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