‘A tool of the devil’: cult survivor’s bitter memories as leader of The Family dies

Anne Hamilton Byrne - The Family Leader dies at 98. (Screengrab - A Current Affair)

A child victim of the notorious Australian cult The Family says he is relieved the cult’s “wicked witch” Anne Hamilton-Byrne has died.

Victim turned advocate Ben Shenton, who was given to the cult as an 18-month-old toddler and not freed until age 15, said he could now move on with his life after Hamilton-Byrne’s recent death at the age of 98.

He said Hamilton-Byrne would be judged for being “a tool and pawn of the devil”.

“I wouldn’t want to be her facing Jesus as her judge … [given] what she’s done,” Mr Shenton said.

A photo given to Ben by his mother 12 years ago. (Photo: Supplied by Ben Shenton)

The cult leader was buried at St Paul’s Catholic Church in Monbulk, which is only 10km away from where she formed her cult group in the Dandenong Ranges.

Journalist Chris Johnston said The Family exploited basic human insecurities.

“It is human nature to fell the need of belonging in a family or a group or community,” said Johnston, who wrote a book on the cult.

Another writer exposing cults, Jo Thornely, advises people to beware of “anyone … telling you that you should no longer have contact with particular people you were close with before”.

“They (the friends) are the ones you should tell that you are in a cult.”

Self-styled cultbuster Raphael Aron defines a cult as a group which denies the opportunity to express free will and to be able to do things voluntarily.

He says they usually involve religions to a religious leader or a guru or a higher power.