Australian Pagans express concern over pending release of convicted predator

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VICTORIA, Aus. – In 1998, Robin Angas Fletcher, also known as Timothy Michael Ryan, The Red Druid, and Balin, was sentenced to ten years imprisonment with a minimum of eight years, for a series of sexual crimes committed against two 15-year old girls.

Adding to the sensationalism of this already brutal and shocking case were Fletcher’s claims that he was a Witch or Wiccan, and that his crimes were merely an expression of his Pagan religion. Over the years, newspaper headlines have capitalized on this point, referring to Fletcher as, for example, “an Evil witch,” “ a self-proclaimed black magic sex witch,” and “a notorious pedophilia witch.”

Robin Fletcher (photo by Craig Abraham)

Robin Fletcher [Photo Credit: Craig Abraham]

In the mid-nineties, Fletcher was based in Melbourne, Australia. He was working as a youth counselor, using hypnosis to help his clients. It was this professional position of trust that enabled Fletcher to meet his two female victims and eventually manipulate them.

Further complicating the issue was the fact that, in 1998, a law against Witchcraft was still on the books. As David Garland, president of the Pagan Awareness Network (PAN) since the early days, explains: “The community was very much in the shadows in 1998 […] Witchcraft was still illegal in two states in Australia, Victoria and Queensland, so no one was in any great hurry to report anything, along with the fact that if you were lucky or unlucky enough to find a so-called teacher in the craft, regardless of if they were legitimate or not there was a tendency to let some things slide as you did not want to lose the opportunity at gaining knowledge that could not be gotten anywhere else.”

“It was and still is in some ways the perfect place for a predator to hide,” Garland adds.

Fletcher was arrested in 1996 and eventually convicted in 1998. In court he pleaded guilty to two counts of committing an indecent act with one of the girls, committing an indecent act and sexually penetrating the other girl, one count of child prostitution, and one count of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Throughout the trials it was repeatedly reported that Fletcher used hypnosis, drugs, money, and other mind-altering techniques to coerce the two girls. According to the prosecution, Fletcher advertised one of the girls on the internet as a “schoolgirl prostitute” and subjected both of them to torture, bondage, flogging, and rape, all under the pretense of a Witchcraft “initiation.”

Fletcher served a total of ten years in Ararat Prison (now called the Hopkins Correctional Centre), a facility for sex offenders in the Australian state of Victoria.

His talent for causing controversy continued as he unsuccessfully attempted to sue Corrections Victoria and the Salvation Army in 2004, under Victoria’s religious vilification laws.

His attempts at gaining parole were refused at least twice when it was discovered that he had used the internet to seek “BDSM slaves” and to position himself as a “Master of the Dark Path.”  Additionally, it was discovered that, in 2005, he was “grooming” potential victims in Ghana via handwritten correspondence.

One of two girls from the original case died in 2003 due to drug overdose, which was reported to have been a suicide.

In a 2006 media release Marian Dalton of the Pagan Awareness Network was quoted as saying “[Fletcher has] made it that much harder for Pagans with genuine complaints to be taken seriously. He’s set back recognition and acceptance for our religion at least ten years – a day for every day he’s spent in prison. What is worse is the possibility he might re-offend.”

The courts did agree that Fletcher was a high risk for re-offending. He has never shown any remorse for his actions, and he continues to defend the stance that his actions were his religious right.

Upon release from prison in 2006, Fletcher was placed under the Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act and transferred to a facility called Corella Place, a village-like complex for sex offenders who are at high risk to re-offend. Known as the “Village of the Damned,” residents here must wear GPS-monitored ankle bracelets, attend counselling sessions, participate in rehabilitation programs, observe a strict curfew, and only leave the property under guarded supervision.

Corella Place "The Village of the Damned" (source: News Corp. Australia)

Corella Place “The Village of the Damned” [Source: News Corp. Australia]

That is where Fletcher has remained to this day, despite attempts in 2015 to have the conditions of his supervision relaxed.

Then, on Feb. 8, it was announced by Supreme Court Justice Phillip Priest that Fletcher’s supervision order was being revoked. Despite describing the crimes as “repellent” and “utterly degrading” to his victims, Priest agreed to release Fletcher, now age 60, from the mandated supervision. The judge cited that, due to his age, legal blindness, and physical weakness, Fletcher posed “no greater risk of re-offending than the average sex offender released into the community.”

Two days later, on February 10, the secretary of the Department of Justice Greg Wilson launched an appeal. Court documents state, that “The evidence in its totality justified the conclusion that the offender posed an unacceptable risk.”

That appeal is expected to go to court this week. Until this is settled, Fletcher will remain under supervision.

Pagans in the state of Victoria have worked hard to ensure that their community remains a safe place. The media has sensationalized Fletcher’s claims that he is a Witch, and the headlines have been damaging to the reputation of Pagans in Victoria and throughout Australia.

The Pagan Collective of Victoria, an umbrella organization in the state of Victoria, told The Wild Hunt, “When he was arrested it sent shock waves through the Pagan community here. This and other scandals in the late nineties shattered the Pagan scene and caused many people to leave the scene or return to solitary practice. [Fletcher] has maintained his interest in Paganism and may try to re-enter the Victorian Pagan community.”

As PAN’s president David Garland has noted, “It has been a constant battle over the almost 20 years that I have been dealing with the media over his claims, disputing them at every turn,” says Garland “It has been a long haul but now the media and the general public are well aware that what he did is not a part of modern practices.”

Over the years, PAN has worked to fix and control the harm done to the community’s reputation in Australia since this story hit the news in the late 1990s. The organization has been one of the voices for the Pagan community, and has issued press releases  in recent years denouncing Fletcher and offering support to the victims of these crimes.

In a 2008 media release, at a time when Fletcher’s supervision was up for review Garland wrote:

What Fletcher did has nothing to do with the legitimate beliefs and practices of Pagans. Trying to claim a religious motive for his actions is abhorrent. It demonstrates he is still not rehabilitated, and that’s why he needs to remain under intensive supervision.

And in 2009, when Fletcher was appealing his extended supervision order, Garland was once again quoted in a PAN media release, saying:

Fletcher is regarded by the entire Pagan and Witch community with revulsion. His claims that child sex is part of the Wiccan religion are false and contemptible – he has slandered our community in the worst possible way. Most people I talk to about this man would be happy if he simply died in prison.

As the day of Fletcher’s potential release into the general population draws closer, The Pagan Collective of Victoria (PCV) has released a statement, condemning his actions, and putting it quite clearly that: “Child sex abuse, non-consensual sex acts, substance abuse, and violence play no part in modern Witchcraft or Paganism.”

The Pagan Collective of Victoria (courtesy photo)

The Pagan Collective of Victoria (courtesy photo)

When we asked PCV for more information about their position and why they felt it necessary to speak out, PCV responded:

Two decades down the track [from Fletcher’s original arrest] there are many now who have not heard of him and may not be aware of the danger he poses.The PCV is the state’s ‘umbrella’ organisation, bringing together the many groups, covens, groves, events providers and solitary practitioners to share news, networking opportunities, events, and discussion.

While we do not claim to speak for all Victorian Pagans, we felt it was important to make a public statement for a two main reasons; to protect members of the Victorian community from Fletcher and to reassure them that here and now, Fletcher, and any others like him would not be tolerated. We are not going to turn a blind eye, and we commit to providing and maintaining a safe and supportive community to the best of our ability.

The other reason – and in fact one of the catalysts for forming The Pagan Collective of Victoria in the first place  was that even as late as a few years ago, the first results of an internet search on Paganism or Witchcraft in Victoria would be news articles about Fletcher and his crimes, linking “Druid” and “Wiccan” practices with sexual abuse. Another part of keeping the Pagan community safe is to provide a rebuttal to mainstream media misinformation and the resultant stigma.

To date, more than 70 groups and individuals have signed PCVs statement in support of their work. PCV encourages Australian Pagans to contact  the organization if they wish to sign this initiative.

The court ruling on Robin Fletcher’s release into the community has not yet been determined, but at some point, he will be released. Garland is thinking ahead to how the community should respond: “We are hoping it does not happen, however, we need to be very careful in what we do and say, if he is released then the establishment believes he has paid for his crimes and any action taken by people will need to make sure they are not infringing on his rights.”

But there are two sides to this story. There are also community members who would reach out to Fletcher, as Garland explains. “The sad thing is that there are people awaiting his release, some who want to reach out and allow him back into the community, and reports even of new followers who are looking forward to getting him back., ” Garland says.

“To me this is a bigger issue as if they cannot see past his crimes against humanity with what he did to the young girls from his position of trust in the general community, let alone the damage he has done to the public perception of the craft over the last 20 years. What will they do to protect him once he is out and possibly offends again?”

A decision is expected imminently, and The Wild Hunt will report on the decision, once it is reached.