By Janet Fife-Yeomans, The Daily Telegraph

POLICE who busted an underground network that operated for 10 years helping mums steal their children believe more youngsters may still be on the run.

Grafton GP Dr William Russell Massingham Pridgeon, 64, the founder of the Australian Antipaedophile Party, accused of being the mastermind of the ring, did not apply for bail at Grafton Local Court on Thursday.

Dr Russell Pridgeon is arrested by police. He is believed to be the group’s financier.

The Australian Federal Police said they had recovered 10 children stolen in contravention of Family Court custody orders, five of them directly linked to the crime syndicate, during their two-year investigation but fear more could remain hidden.

“I don’t think we can exclude there are other cases,” AFP manager of crime operations Justine Gough said.

The AFP’s investigation was revealed by The Daily Telegraph earlier this month.

Police said they expected to make more arrests after executing 10 search warrants on Wednesday in Grafton, Dubbo, Townsville and Perth, where they seized a $70,000 yacht, called 56 South, allegedly belonging to Dr Pridgeon.

Dr Pridgeon’s party ran Senate candidates in the 2016 election.

Dr Russell Pridgeon — founder of the Australian Antipaedophile Party.

His friend, Patrick Finbar McGarry O’Dea, 63, was also arrested in Grafton.

Police will allege the former Rhodesian army officer’s job was to drive the women and children across the country.

It is also alleged that he actively tried to portray the fathe rs in these matters as child abusers in social media and other public forums.

Both men were refused police bail after their arrests on Wednesday.

An 83-year-old grandfather of two of the missing children, who have both since been found and returned to their father, was granted bail in a Townsville court today.

A 78-year-old Perth woman, Patricia Plaisted, will face court in Perth on December 14 for her alleged role in helping one of the mothers­ ­escape police detection.

Police believe around 40 people are involved in the sophisticated network with many helping naively without realising the implications.

AFP arrest Patrick O’Dea in G rafton.

The mothers who snatched their children claimed they were being sexually abused by their fathers but Commander Gough said those allegations had been investigated and were unsubstantiated.

The adults communicated using encrypted messaging applications while the children were hidden by having their hair dyed, given new names and new birthdays.

Police allege that Pridgeon, who is facing defamation action in court next week for accusing a father of being a paedophile, is the financier.

He sold his home and liquidated assets to buy gold bullion.

He is charged with two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice, which carry a maximum sentence of 10 years’ jail, and dealing in the proceeds of crime.

 

O’Dea is charged with two counts of conspiracy to defeat justice, using a carriage service to menace or harass and illegally publish Family Court proceedings.

The Townsville man is charged with two counts of dealing in the proceeds of crime and aiding abetting the illegal publication of Family Court proceedings.

O’Dea applied for bail which was denied in Grafton Local Court today. Pridgeon and O’Dea have both been extradited to appear in court in Brisbane on Friday.

AFP Assistant Commissioner Debbie Platz, Assistant Commissioner Crime Operations, said it was an organised and well-resourced group of people demonstrating a complete disregard for the rule of law and decisions of the courts.

“The actions of this group do not protect children. What it does is potentially endanger the safety and wellbeing of them,” she said.

&# 8220;We believe this group has sought assistance from other people — some who may be unaware of their involvement in (allegedly) criminal activity — so we are urging anyone with any knowledge about these activities to come forward to the AFP.”

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