Mr Scott said he and another former member of the world-wide Christian sect, British man Lance Christie, had gone to the nature strip outside Bruce Hales’ mansion in Trelawney Street, Eastwood, to record a video on the phone. Mr Christie was intending to make a statement about his court battle with his family – who remain loyal to the Exclusive Brethren – in the United Kingdom as they try to force him to give up the business he founded in 1978 and ran for 40 years.
However, the two men allege that Gareth Hales, whose mansion is next door to his father’s, came onto the nature strip and violently intervened as they prepared to record the video.
“When he saw the video he tried to duck behind me and then he lunged to grab the phone,” Mr Scott told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. “It happened so fast … He grabbed my left arm first, going for the phone and then grabbed my neck and pushed it down. He had one hand on my arm and one hand on my neck. When he grabbed me, I immediately said, ‘This is assault’.”
Mr Christie said he was also initially manhandled, and that he saw Mr Hales “wrestled hard to get hold of the phone”. The incident lasted almost a minute, after which Mr Christie persuaded Mr Hales to let Mr Scott go if he turned the phone off.
“I walked away from him as quick as I could,” Mr Scott said. “I was feeling faint and thought I was going to collapse. Then another guy in a white shirt chased after me … he followed terribly close behind me and I turned around and he actually bumped into me. He stood inches in front of my face and just stared at me.
“I could smell the reek of alcohol.”
A spokesman for the Brethren, who now call themselves the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, said the inference in questions put to them about the incident “do not reflect what actually happened and we deny any suggestion of assault. We are in conversation with the relevant authorities and are taking further action.
“Based on conversations with our legal team, we suggest caution against reporting on this until the outcome of these actions are determined. We will not hesitate to exercise our legal rights if defamed.”
The Brethren are hugely wealthy and politically connected. They were regularly in contact with former Prime Minister John Howard, donate secretly to the Liberal Party, and have lobbied for and supported conservative causes.
However, they do not themselves vote, and they operate a radical policy of “separation” from the world, in which they refuse to eat or form friendships with “worldly” non-Brethren people. Bruce Hales has told members they need to feel “hatred” for the world. Despite this, Australian governments generously fund their member-only schools.
Members who fall foul of the church’s leadership or its strict doctrine can be excommunicated, or “withdrawn from”, after which the church will often refuse them all access or contact with their families and will also try to exclude them from their jobs and businesses.
Official Brethren ministry documents reveal that, in 2006, Bruce Hales preached to his flock about punching people, saying “the way to deal with people” was to “give one first, and then take it back, back again, bang, out, down, done. KO … I’m not encouraging violence, but, you know, if you do have to do it, well, do it. Get one in and run … before he’s got his breath back.”
Michael Bachelard is The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald’s investigations editor. He has worked in Canberra, Melbourne and Jakarta as Indonesia correspondent. He has written two books and won multiple awards for journalism, including the Gold Walkley in 2017.