Source : 29/06/1978 Northampton Evening Telegraph
A question mark today hangs over the death of a young religious sect member following an open verdict after a three-hour inquest.
Stephen Orchard (19) was decapitated by a train near the headquarters of the Jesus Fellowship Church at Bugbrooke, near Northampton.
A pathologist said his injuries were consistent with him having been lying on the track.
He was the second member of the sect, which discourages people from leaving, to die in 18 months.
In February 1977, another youth dies in a field from exposure.
The coroner, Mr Michael Collcut, said: 'The circumstances of this young man's death are far from straightforward. Just how much the young man, If he had wanted to leave, would risk showing other people in the community he was dissatisfied, I don't know.'
'Whether or not he was depressed or wanted to leave we cannot be entirely certain. But, on the other hand, what is the explanation?'
Stephen's body was found on a railway line near the sect's New Creation Farm, Nether Heyford, on February 28.
The sect leader, the Rev Noel Stanton, told the inquest of its strict rules:
All Money earned by members goes into a common purse.
All property and other possessions belong to the sect.
Dating and flirting are virtually banned, though marriage within the community is allowed.
Few people leave the church, and those that express doubts are discouraged from leaving.
But Mr Stanton said no-one under 18 enters the community without parental consent. The young are encouraged to keep in touch with families, but are banned from family festivals like Christmas.
Stephen's father, Mr Leslie Orchard, said Stephen had mentioned leaving the community, but it was nothing serious.
'As far as I know he was perfectly happy. Had he not been, I am sure he would have told me because we were quite close.'
Mr Stanton also said Stephen had no doubts about community life.
'He had found himself in it. He had his own views. I sought to lead him along the way of Christ, as I do with all of them.'
Mr Collcut said he felt bound to make a full inquiry because of letters he had received from parents anxious about the safety of their children.
It was not for the coroner's court to question religious beliefs, or the manner of the organisation, unless it had a bearing on the death.
'It certainly appears to me to be a close-knit community, and that is an unusual way for people to live.'
'We have heard that a number of parents have expressed considerable concern about the activities of the fellowship and the community. I am not surprised this should happen where the parents do not hold the same beliefs.'
Mr Collcutt added it was clear the young man was lying on the rail when he was hit by the train. But because it was possible it had occurred accidentally, he was obliged to record an open verdict.