A mum who was ‘brainwashed’ by a Liverpool 'cult' claims members monitored her phone and took her children away from her.
Rachel (whose name has been changed to protect her identity) claims the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church controlled her life before she finally made the decision to leave in 2018.
She spoke out about her family’s life inside the evangelical Christian sect, after the ECHO published a previous article about another man’s ‘escape’ from the group.
Rachel claims church leaders even stopped her children seeing their father after he left the sect.
The Christian group, formerly known as the Exclusive Brethren, is an evangelical Christian movement that believes in separating many aspects of daily life from ‘non-believers’.
Members of the group were only allowed mobile phones provided by the Universal Business Team, a company owned by the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, with strict restrictions on websites they are able to access.
Rachel also claims all communication and website history data is monitored by members of the church.
The Brethren did not respond to these specific allegations when approached by the ECHO but strongly refute Rachel’s allegations and insist all steps taken to care for her children were all approved.
The church also rejected all claims they are a cult and have described themselves as a "mainstream Christian Church" whose members "extensively engage with the wider community on a daily basis".
In 2015, when Rachel considered leaving the sect, she claims the Brethren had her declared 'psychotic' by a psychiatrist employed by the Church and sent her children to live with a host family for four months.
Rachel claims church leaders tried to stop her husband, who quit the group in 2015, from having any contact with his three children for three years.
She claims her husband was even stopped from going to his own mother's funeral because he had been 'excommunicated'.
The Exclusive Brethren is an evangelical Christian movement which is part of a wider movement known as the Plymouth Brethren.
The sect has members in countries across the world but the largest fellowships are found in the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and North America.
The Exclusive Brethren was founded in 1848 by John Nelson Darby, an anglo-Irish Bible teacher.
One of the group's fundamental beliefs is the 'Doctrine of Separation' which is based on their interpretation of 2 Corinthians 6 and 2 Timothy 2, in the Bible. This belief means they maintain a separation from non believers in many aspects of life.
In 2012, the Exclusive Brethren became known as the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church.
Today, the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church is thought to have around 45,000 members worldwide and 12,000 members in the UK.
Speaking to the ECHO, Rachel said: "I was born into the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church and moved to Liverpool after meeting my husband at a fellowship meeting.
"My husband decided to leave the group in 2015, while I decided to stay in with our children. At the time I was brainwashed and I thought that leaving would cause too much heartache for the children.
"I consider the group a cult because it is very obviously a brainwashing system where men at the top decided everything. They operated a strict system of punishments and consequences for breaking rules that cause problems for families by causing division and separation."
"We received a visit from a local brother saying he was here because my husband had sent a text"
Members of the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church practise the ‘Doctrine of Separation’, meaning members separate themselves from ‘non-believers’ in many aspects of life due to the belief that the world is ‘a place of wickedness’.
Rachel revealed that if a member of the sect wants a mobile phone, they must purchase one from the Universal Business Team, a company owned by the Plymouth Brethren.
She claims that all phones are fitted with software that only allows restricted access to the internet, called Streamline 3, and that communication of the members is monitored by the Brethren.
Rachel told the ECHO: "The software stops you from going on certain websites. They would know if you got the software removed somehow and UBT would inform the local Brethren."
She claims members of the group would have to request access to specific websites before being allowed access.
She added: "I remember once my husband sent a text from his mobile to the home phone. All it said was 'hi'. That evening we received a visit from a local brother saying he was here because my husband had sent a text.
"We would frequently be made to attend evening talks where we would be briefed on the views of Bruce Hales, the current leader of the Church, on the latest technology."
"When I tried to leave they told me I was psychotic and took my children away"
Rachel also revealed the damaging impact that it had on her family, causing them to become separated after her husband decided to leave the church in 2015.
She claims she was advised by the church not to allow her husband to see his children and she alleges all phone calls he had with the children were monitored.
Speaking to the ECHO, she said: "The most traumatic thing is that the Brethren make out that when you want to quit or if you're feeling uncomfortable about something, they tell you that you're 'ill' or 'mental' and not capable of making decisions.
"They make you feel inadequate to the extent that you just give in and let them take over and do it all.
"My husband kept asking to see the children and I was advised that I couldn't even tell him how they were or anything about them and that if he was to see them there would have to be a child counsellor present."
She claimed: "When I tried to leave they told me I was psychotic and took my children away for four months."
She alleges that a psychiatrist employed by the Brethren declared her 'psychotic' and recommended a short term stay with family members while the children were housed with another Brethren family nearly 30 miles away, while her phone was taken away from her.
She said: "When my husband left the Brethren and I thought about leaving to be with him, they said I can't live on my own. They made me think I was mentally ill.
"They took my phone away and gave me a new one which was completely restricted with no access to the internet and all the records were monitored. Looking back on it, I feel like I was being controlled.
"The local Brethren decided that my children should be looked after by another Brethren couple who said they would 'love to take my kids on'."
Rachel claims she did not see her children for two months, until she was allowed to join them with their ‘host family’.
She said: "Looking back on it it was completely bizarre. I remember thinking these were my kids yet I wasn't even allowed to stay the night with them.
"I went back to my house one night after staying at my brothers and I felt so alone without my children and my husband.
“I didn't know what I wanted. I didn't have a life. At that point I had no relationship my kids and no relationship with my husband. It was completely surreal.
"The experience has had a real impact on the kids because they became so used to just doing what they were told at school and by the church. They don't know how to run their own lives.
"In the Brethren, if you were a girl in your teens you'd be thinking about getting married in the next few years and you can't begin to think about your career until you're married."
This is not the first account from a former member of the Plymouth Brethren in Liverpool revealed by the ECHO.
John Spinks, 53, from Wavertree, claims that he "escaped the cult" after he was born into the group, known as the Exclusive Brethren at the time, before leaving in 1988.
A spokesperson for the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church said: "Having made contact with those that cared and supported the family, they refute all personal statements as untrue.
"Those providing support were careful to ensure that steps were taken to care for the children were all approved.
"We strongly refuse the suggestion that the person in questions was put under any improper pressure by members of the Brethren community.
"The global care and compassion of the Plymouth Brethren can be seen extensively by the work of the Rapid Relief Team who are providing support to the youth, disability, homeless and emergency services.
"The RRT will be supporting for the second year the Homeless Games in Liverpool. Our volunteers can be seen taking a very active part to support all who attended."