'Child abduction syndicate' linked to mum, kids in hiding for years
The alleged criminal syndicate police claim masterminded some of the country's most baffling child stealing cases has been linked to a mum and two children who went into hiding for four years.
Earlier this year, the 45-year-old woman was arrested in Taree on the NSW Mid North Coast, where she had been living with her two 11-year-old daughters.
Police allege the four people charged following a series of raids today were part of a group that helped keep her and her daughters hidden, along with other cases involving mothers and children
In June, A Current Affair spoke to several Taree locals - none of whom have been implicated in the alleged syndicate - who knew and supported the mum and her girls when they lived near Taree.
Local man Jack said he had become a kind of surrogate grandfather to the young girls.
"She'd run away from her husband, and that's as far as what I knew," Jack said.
Another man, local farmer Ron, said the woman had seemed in a "sticky situation".
"I got to know the girls fairly well," he said.
"They were bright, happy young girls. They loved their mum, she entertained them and did everything with them."
However, Ron said he was unaware of an organised ring of supporters.
“People help people in need and that’ll always happen,” he said.
"We just thought she was in a pretty bad situation and we just did what we thought would be the right thing to do."
The woman was extradited to Queensland and charged with child stealing.
Bail documents allege the mother abducted the girls from their primary school in Townsville in April, 2014.
Their father had custody of the girls at the time.
Police allege the woman hid in Kunnunura in the Kimberleys in Western Australia, in Perth, in Grafton and Bega in NSW, before settling in Taree.
The four people arrested today include Dr William Russell Massingham Pridgeon and his friend Patrick O'Dea, both from Grafton.
A Townsville man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, and a woman, Patricia Plaistead, were also charged.
Ms Plaistead will face court in Perth.
It has been alleged the network used encrypted messages used by terrorists and organised crime gangs, and that some supporters were paid in gold bullion.
Police claim 10 children have been saved as a result of the investigation.