'Incest cult' discovered in Australia

A general view of a valley in New South Wales, Australia. Image: Jochen Schlenker, Robert Harding World Imagery, Corbis

Dozens of family members who have bred together for generations have been discovered in a remote farming community in Australia.

Many of the children are believed to suffer extreme deformities and health problems brought on by inbreeding.

The Colt family reportedly raised four generations of inbred offspring inside huts in a valley in New South Wales.

Their existence was apparently unknown to the 2,000 people with whom they shared the township. The case only emerged when local authorities were informed that children living in the huts were not attending school.

An investigation was carried out subsequently by New South Wales Police and Community Services.

It found deformed and disabled children living in squalor, who were described as being unable to take care of themselves and lacking knowledge of basic hygiene, such as how to clean their teeth or use toilet paper.

Both the location of the settlement, and the family's real name, have been withheld. But New South Wales Children's Court decided to release details of the case in order to publicise what is believed to be one of Australia's worst ever instances of incest.

At least 40 inbred people are believed to have been born in the network of huts, none of which are served with electricity or running water.

The family is thought to trace back to the children's great-grandparents, who were brother and sister.

Successive inbreeding has left the youngest generation of family members largely deaf, blind and incapable of intelligible speech.

In addition, a number have been diagnosed with homozygosity deformations: mutations caused by inheriting identical genes from both parents.