Seven people from a performing arts school near Sydney are facing serious allegations of kidnapping, sexually abusing and raping three boys under the age of eight.
Between 2014 and 2016, five women and two men - aged between 17 and 58 - are alleged to have been performing rituals that involved removing blood from the victims and forcing them to drink it. Based in Australia's Blue Mountains, 100km west of Sydney, the group are facing a combined 127 charges.
One of the accused is the 58-year-old owner of the school, which taught circus skills, self-described as "a family friendly environment where students can learn in a safe and fun manner". The 58-year-old Katoomba women is facing the majority of charges (43) including aggravated kidnapping, sexual assault of a child under 10 and having sexual intercourse with a child under 10.
The group were arrested on Monday (5 February) following ongoing investigations that began last year. According to the Daily Telegraph, one law official said it was one of "the most disturbing things I've read in my 24 years in this job."
It is also being reported by the Daily Telegraph that four of the accused members were related. The 58-year-old woman who ran the school was the older sister of a 52-year-old man allegedly involved. A 29-year-old and a 26-year-old are reportedly the daughters of the man.
Solicitor Bryan Wrench, who is defending the 58-year-old along with three more of the accused, told Magistrate Stephen Corry that his clients would be entering a plea of not guilt. "My first application today is that I would like it specifically noted that we are entering pleas of not guilty for all sequences, in all matters," Wrench said, according to news.com.au.
"They simply say we didn't do it and there's another side to the story (presented) by police and the media."
None of the accused have been named because of legal reasons. They are being held until a bail allocation on 16 February.