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Source : 30/06/1978 Northampton Evening Telegraph

Religious sect leaders are taking legal advice over remarks made by a coroner concerning the death of one of their members.

An open verdict was recorded at a three-hour inquest on the death of 19-year-old Stephen Orchard, a member of the Jesus Fellowship Church, two days ago.

But church leaders said they were unhappy with coroner Mr Michael Collcutt's concluding remarks when he left a question mark hanging over the teenagers death.

In a statement released after three hours consultation with lawyers, the sect said it considered the death 'a tragic accident'.

But in his summing-up, Mr Collcutt said at the Northampton inquest: 'The circumstances of this young man's death are far from straightforward.'

He also carried out a lengthy inquiry into the rules and ideology of the sect, which is based at New Creation Farm, Bugbrooke, following a number of letters from parents anxious about their children.

But the sect's statement said: 'As a Christian church and community practising the teachings of Jesus Christ, we expect to be 'persecuted for righteousness' sake.'

'The coroner spoke of receiving a number of letters from parents. We understand those who wrote live at a distance from the community and had, as we believe, no helpful knowledge of the man who died or the circumstances in which he died.'

'We consider it strange that such letters should be accepted from unknown writers who were not called to give evidence on oath. Neither Mr Orchard's parents nor the elders of the community were told of these letters.'

'Letters and evidence of support for the good work done by the community and church, could have been obtained from a large number of parents. No opportunity was given for this.'

Mr Orchard was decapitated by a train near the sect's headquarters in February.

But the sect's statement added: 'All parts of Mr Orchard's body were found in the path of the train between two lines.' - 'The British Rail spokesman clearly stated there was no evidence to show the body had been run over by the wheels of the train.' - 'In such circumstances, the matter is being discussed with legal advisors.'

Mr Collcutt refused to comment on the statement. He said: 'It would not be right and proper for me to comment, given that the inquest is over.'