The jetsetting Burslem also insisted she fly first class to have more room to pray and claimed to be the rightful heir to the British throne.
Her extravagant lifestyle and outlandish claims have been revealed after several of her closest confidantes walked out of Burslem’s Magnificat Meal Movement in disgust.
The movement, based at Helidon near Toowoomba, attracted worldwide attention when Burslem claimed to receive messages from Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
Its inner workings have been a closely guarded secret but former followers have begun warning of Burslem’s dangerous hold on members.
Clare Birchley spent almost 20 years in the movement and was once a true believer in Burslem’s claims but now says she is a charlatan. She estimates Burslem has raised $20 million through her followers since she first shot to prominence in the 1990s. Money-raising schemes in the movement are many and varied. Burslem:
■Insisted followers give 10 per cent of wages and donate extra for God’s blessing;
■ Recruited followers to sell products for multi-level marketing companies such as Herbalife, Neways and Forever Living which would earn her commissions;
■ Convinced followers to invest $1.8 million in a failed gold bullion scheme.
Burslem and her husband were broke when they moved to Toowoomba from Melbourne in the early 1990s and joined conservative Catholic prayer groups.
Local Catholics set them up with somewhere to live, but Burslem put the church off-side with her claims about communicating with Jesus and Mary.
Soon, the former primary school teacher was claiming she needed $45 million to build a basilica to honour the Virgin Mary. Ms Birchley says it never happened and believes it “never will”.
Instead, Burslem spent $800,000 converting a dilapidated stable in the Spanish village of San Sebastian de Garabandal into a villa.
Burslem also bought expensive furniture for one of her properties in Helidon. She shipped a Mercedes ML320 SUV from the UK to Vanuatu, where she is now based.
“In 2008 she started saying the key to the basilica was the Spanish stable. She said ‘God has said we are to rebuild the stable’.
“She has purchased at least nine Mercedes’ since 2000. She says it’s a sign of mercy, that’s why she should be driving in them, because of the word mercy in Mercedes.
“She insisted on flying first class, and if it wasn’t first it was business. She used to say she prayed better.
“None of us accompanying her on those flights ever got to sit in first class. You would get to the end of the flight and she would send the air hostess to say ‘come on pack up my things’.”
Followers called themselves the “slaves of the eucharist” and wore blue robes — until Burslem realised the outfits were affecting their Herbalife sales and told them to wear civilian clothes.
Burslem fled to Vanuatu in 2007 after the tax office came calling with a $5.5 million bill. It is believed she negotiated a settlement to pay about $500,000.
She is staying on a property surrounded by a giant wall with broken glass scattered over the top for security. Her former followers estimate she has spent $1 million renovating the property.
Burslem declined to comment when Channel Nine’s A Current Affair confronted her in Vanuatu last week.
Burslem has also been preaching that Ireland will sink beneath the waves and that the world will face a calamity in around 2017, former followers say.
And Burslem’s dramatic claims do not stop at talking to Jesus and Mary.
“She purports to be the real heir to the British throne,” Ms Birchley said.
The movement has dwindled from thousands in the 1990s to about 400 including children today.
“Money can be replaced. Life cannot. The people of the MMM are good people, sorely mistaken, bled dry of their independence and psychologically tricked.
“They will need support one day as they begin to realise they have been used by a charlatan,” Ms Birchley said.
Our research suggests that both Claire Murphy and Clare Birchley need to give more detail in regard to their role in the MMM. This includes issues of a criminal nature which we brought to the public domain in 2012. Obviously not having local information is an obstacle to understanding the latest twists in this story. Certainly the flushing out of Debra in Vanuatu has been on the cards for some time. Now what is needed is getting beyond the Celebrity factor and following the money trail. It will involve high level policing and talking to the victims of fraud world wide. It will involve an investment by the media which will cost a bit. I was invited to be an expert witness by the ATO but it was clear that they could not get a handle on the detailed fraud involved. This is likely why a settlement was reached. The terms of the settlement made by Claire Murphy and Clare Birchley with Debra means we are unlikely to ever be able to get at the truth. There is one way but since 2010 there is one person who has the golden egg of evidence but………
This was summed up to me last Friday night when I received a call from a relative of someone who was very much a feature of my thesis published in 2006. This person is seriously ill both physically and psychologically.
The human damage this woman has been responsible for is horrendous. She looks like a shriveled Hippie now but she has destroyed families throughout the world. Let us be clear DI will assist the media in any way to bring this woman to justice and at no cost other than my time.