Case Study 9: Hearing room updates

Update 27
24 March 2014

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse continued to hear evidence in the case of St Ann’s Special School in Adelaide today. Paedophile Brian Perkins died while serving a ten year sentence for the abuse of three students at the school between 1986 and 1991.

Sue Cain, as the Director of the Professional Standards Office in the Archdiocese of Adelaide since September 2002, was responsible for Towards Healing, the church’s protocols for dealing with allegations of sex abuse.

Questions to Ms Cain went to why the procedures of Towards Healing were not strictly applied for the former students of St Ann’s, the reasons why the claims which were submitted were not progressed, and why the Towards Healing process did not proceed to an assessment of the claims. Issues raised included the effect of police investigations and criminal action on the process, and the interaction of Towards Healing and civil litigation.

The Counsel Assisting also sought an understanding of why the Church took a “group” based approach to the St Ann’s case instead of dealing with each case individually, given the complainant was usually a parent or carer, rather than the former student, since many of them were ‘non-verbal’ or had ‘limited verbal skills’.

Clarification was also sought about the $2.3 million ‘gift’ payments made on behalf of the Church to students and families, including how the categories were determined, and why complainants were not consulted in developing the scheme or allocating individual students to categories. The ‘gifts’ did not affect students’ rights to pursue civil action.

Later in the day, Archbishop Philip Wilson gave evidence. He began his ministry in the Archdiocese in February 2001 and became Archbishop in December 2001. Archbishop Wilson outlined the governance arrangements in place for St Ann’s and the relationship between the Catholic Education Office and St Ann’s.

Having become aware of the allegations against Perkins in late 2001, the Archbishop offered to contribute to the cost of Perkins’ extradition from Queensland. Perkins was eventually extradited at the expense of the SA police in March 2002.

Questions went to what the Archbishop might have expected were appropriate processes at the time of the allegations. He spoke to the numerous changes that had been made to the procedures and protocols in the Catholic education system that aim to ensure that the events at St Ann’s never happen again, and if they do, to ensure that the incident is brought to the relevant authorities quickly and clearly.

The Archbishop spoke to how the culture has changed in the Archdiocese in the last 10 years, including the heightened awareness of the importance of child protection, restructure of the Catholic Education Office, the introduction of the principal consultants, the establishment of a Child Protection Council, and a Police Check Unit.

The Archbishop acknowledged that some people may have felt excluded from the process because of the group approach, and agreed that some things could have been done better.

Under questioning from Commissioner Fitzgerald, the Archbishop also agreed that the Catholic Church should be able to be sued.

The Archbishop concluded his evidence by saying any of the points that have been made before the Royal Commission are important learning points for us to take into account as we deal with these issues.

The hearing concluded in Adelaide today.


Update 26
21 March 2014

Day five of the Royal Commission’s hearing into St Ann’s School in Adelaide heard evidence from witnesses associated with St Ann’s Special School and Catholic Education South Australia.

Paedophile Brian Perkins died in prison while serving a ten year sentence for the sexual abuse of children at St Ann’s Special sSchool between 1986 and 1991.

Claude Hamam was principal of St Ann’s during that time and was responsible for employing Brian Perkins. He gave evidence about the management structures and procedures in place for St Ann’s between 1986 and 1991 and the process he completed in employing Perkins.

In employing Perkins, Hamam said he did not check Perkins’ references, and, despite maintaining for some time that he had done so, did not obtain a police check for him. Police checks were not required at that time. He described these actions as a mistake and an error of judgement. He understood that Perkins would drive the bus for vulnerable children and that he would be the only responsible adult on the bus at the time.

Hamam said that in the following years, Perkins’ role grew to include voluntary activities including wood work and yard work. He said he was also aware that parents were being offered respite care by Perkins, outside the school.

Hamam resigned from his employment with the Catholic Education Office in 2003 after losing the confidence of the Director of the CEO, Allan Dooley.

Martin Aartsen, a teacher who had been appointed acting principal at St Ann’s while Mr Hamam was on long service leave in term 4 of 1991 then gave evidence. He said that he had not informed parents about the allegations because he understood from what he had been told about confidentiality that this could compromise the police investigations.

The last witness for the day was Michael Critchley, who had been director of education services, with responsibility for human resources at the CEO in 1991.

Critchley testified that Hamam had contacted him in 1991 seeking advice about how to remove Perkins as a volunteer at the school. He obtained advice from lawyers about terminating Perkins’ role at the school.

The hearing will continue in Adelaide on Monday.

Update 24
Update 24 (Word doc)

20 March 2014

The Royal Commission’s hearing in the case of St Ann’s Special School continued in Adelaide today.

The case of John Ellis is being heard concurrently in Sydney this week.

The Royal Commission heard evidence from Detective Senior Sergeant Walter Conte of the South Australian Police including the nature of the liaison with the Catholic Education Office and the Professional Standards Office in the Archdiocese of Adelaide during the investigation of Brian Perkins.

His evidence also went to advice from SAPOL as to whether or not parents should be informed about the abuse allegations and whether or not parents should contact the media, given the risk, he said, of a mistrial. The Matter became public around March 2002 which is when Archbishop Wilson sent a letter to all parents whose child had attended St Ann’s between 1986 and 1991.

Conte described the strong and positive relationship between the police and the Archdiocese in working on the St Ann's issues. 

Later in the day Alan Dooley, former director of the Catholic Education Office in the Archdiocese of Adelaide gave evidence relating to his role in the Archdiocese and his responsibilities relating to the allegations at St Ann’s. Those responsibilities included planning the response to affected families, assisting with the conduct of inquiries by the Catholic Education Office into the circumstances surrounding the allegations made against Perkins 1986-91, establishing a formal point of contact for affected families and communicating with relevant bodies, including the Archdiocese, the Professional Standards Office and the South Australian Police.

Mr Dooley’s statement details how various parties were informed about the allegations, contact with families, the St Ann’s Taskforce (set up to manage the response to the incidents at the school), investigations into how the matter was handled at the time, and payments to former students who were affected.

Mr Dooley said the abuse which occurred at St Ann’s was shocking and appalling and the immediate handling of it in 1991 was unacceptable. 

The hearing continues.

Update 23
19 March 2014

Update 21
18 March 2014


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