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Cult Holding Boy Offers To Swap Him For Access

The leader of a religious cult that is believed to have abducted a teenager said yesterday he would appeal against a decision to make the boy a ward of court.

David Mackay, an Australian who leads the Jesus Christians cult, said he was willing to return Bobby Kelly, of Essex, in exchange for continued access to the 16-year-old. But he also said he did not know the whereabouts of the boy.

Last week the High Court made Bobby a ward of court to his grandmother Ruth Kelly, with whom he lives, after he abruptly left home to join the fundamentalist Christian cult just hours after meeting its members. The court order makes Bobby's grandmother his legal guardian.

But Mr Mackay argued that a 16-year-old was old enough to make his own decisions and he was prepared to challenge the order in court next week. He said: "The thing that concerns us is that such a court order would never have been taken out if someone didn't think we were evil people. Before that we had the total support of his grandmother."

Mr Mackay founded the Jesus Christians in 1981. The cult, based in Australia, lives by strict interpretation of the Bible.

Confusion still surrounds the whereabouts of Bobby Kelly. On Saturday, Mr Mackay insisted he was not with the cult. "We don't have him. We definitely won't take him out of Britain," he said. Yet his latest statements indicate Mr Mackay has access to the boy. Concerns have been raised that the cult wants Bobby to leavethe country. Previous recruits have been asked to join members abroad.

One Sunday newspaper received e-mail claiming to be from the boy forwarded via the Jesus Christians website. In the message, the author insists he is not being held against his will and says that he has "never been happier" since joining the cult. "I believe there is something better to do with my life instead of working for money," he says.

Mr Mackay said: "We expect that Bobby will be handed over to the authorities shortly - we just feel that we should be given the chance to get some legal advice. If there is some way we can appeal against that court order then we will do.

"We feel that the ideal thing for a 16-year-old kid ... is that he should be able to have whoever he wants as friends. He should be allowed to live with his grandmother but he should be allowed to have visitors."

Mr Mackay said yesterday he was "amazed" to hear that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of two cult members seen with Bobby.

Mrs Kelly told the court that her grandson met a member of the Jesus Christians handing out leaflets in Romford market. The same afternoon, he told his grandmother he was "going with them". Mrs Kelly says she wants Bobby home. She said she had spoken to him on the phone but was concerned that someone was "guiding his responses" and that he sounded like a "complete stranger".

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