Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry News and Updates
Girl changed assault story after threats, documents show
brisbanetimes.com.au senior reporter
A 14-year-old girl at the John Oxley Youth Centre changed her story about being sexually assaulted in 1988 in part because she was threatened by other centre residents, documents tendered as court exhibits for the first time show.
The documents, showing senior public servants and the then-Family Services Minister Craig Sherrin were told of the incident in 1988, were tendered as exhibits at the Carmody Inquiry on Friday.
The inquiry is exploring evidence of an alleged cover-up of abuse at the centre two decades ago.
Allegations that information on sexual abuse at the John Oxley Youth Centre were covered up spawned the Heiner affair, dubbed "Shreddergate", when the new Goss government approved the destruction of evidence gathered by former magistrate Noel Heiner as he investigated the centre in 1989.
However, the documents included as public exhibits in the Carmody inquiry, show for the first time how this incident central to the shredding conspiracy allegation was handled.
A doctor's report from the Mater Children's Hospital on May 27, 1988, says the girl "didn't want to have intercourse, not physically held, did struggle".
This medical examination followed a report by psychologist Jeff Manitzky on May 24, 1988, in which he reports that he suspected the girl had sex when a group of 12 – five staff and seven young people from the centre – were on an excursion to Mt Barney.
Then-centre manager Peter Coyne, who will give evidence to the Carmody Inquiry on Monday, was telephoned at home and returned to the centre that night, Mr Manitzky wrote.
"A meeting was held immediately between Peter Coyne, Sarah Moynihan, Karen Mersiades (teacher in charge) and myself at which we discussed the events of the day and my concerns and suspicions," he said.
"A decision was made to that the suspicions of sexual activity would be investigated as early as possible on the 25 May 1988."
The girl was interviewed in the office of John Oxley's deputy manager Jenny Foote the next day, May 25, when she said she did not have sex with any of the boys on the outing.
On May 27, the girl changed her mind after two boys told John Oxley Centre staff they did have sex with the girl on the Mt Barney excursion.
On May 28, the centre's youth worker, Lorraine Hayward, report to Mr Coyne that the girl was interviewed by two female police officers from the Juvenile Aid Bureau from Ashgrove on that day.
Her report says: "(name removed) chose not to make an official complaint."
"She was duly advised of her legal rights and of what options there were, relevant to the incident which allegedly occurred on May 24, 1988.
"(Her) concern was the length of time for the matter to proceed and also that there had been threats made against her from residents in the institution."
During yesterday's hearings, former youth worker Fred Fiege told how he bought the girl's mother to the centre to speak with her daughter.
That is also confirmed in a May 30, 1988, memorandum from a Mr GE Nix, the deputy director general of the department to his director-general, Alan Pettigrew.
That memo also says the mother was initially upset at the decision not to press charges, but changed her mind after speaking with her daughter.
"Initially, Mrs (name removed) was upset that her daughter had made this decision, but after spending a couple of hours with her daughter, she was interviewed by the training officer, and advised that she was happy for her daughter not to make a complaint."
On this May 30 memorandum is a note, which says "seen by Minister 31/5/88".
Mr Nix's memo to Mr Pettigrew is the first time talk of allegations of a "cover-up" is mentioned.
Mr Nix wrote: "Mr Coyne also advised me that one particular staff member (that they have had a lot of trouble with) was saying there had been a cover-up and a whitewash."
The memo says Mr Coyne would talk to him and tell him "that all the information has been passed on".
Another memo from Mr Pettigrew on May 30 to the Mr Sherrin says "there is some possibility of this leaking to the media".
That includes a handwritten note that "Full report given to the Minister on 31/5/88" and a subsequent note which reads "Noted".
The issue was raised publicly 10 months later on March 17, 1989, when in a ministerial media statement, Mr Sherrin said no rape occurred.
Mr Sherrin said in 1989: "The reality is that there was a sexual incident involving two boys and a girl during an excursion, when for a matter of minutes only, they were not under the immediate supervision of staff.
"The girl did not allege rape. The girl's mother was spoken to and encouraged by centre management to talk with her daughter and to consider whether charges were appropriate.
"Neither the mother nor the girl believed charges were appropriate."
The media statement includes this line: "If intercourse took place, the charge would necessarily, because of the age of the girl, have been statutory rape."
Counsel assisting the inquiry tabled the documents on Friday to show exactly how the issue had been handled within the public service – and publicly – before the Heiner Inquiry began in November 1989.
The Carmody inquiry is the 11th time issues allegations have been investigated, but one of the few times there has been the power to subpoena witnesses.
This week, no former employees of the John Oxley Youth Centre who have appeared have said they gave any evidence of sexual abuse to the Heiner Inquiry two decades ago.
Barbara Flynn, a former Children's Court worker who helped Mr Heiner conduct interviews, said no sexual allegations were ever raised with Mr Heiner.
However, former youth worker Daniel Lannen told the inquiry this week he "believed" he discussed sexual abuse allegations with Ms Flynn when she spoke with him during the inquiry.
Another youth worker, Olly Isaac, has told of being suspicious another girl was abused after witnessing "large hand prints" on the sunburnt back of a girl who returned from an excursion in 1991.
But Mr Isaac said he only voiced his concerns with his immediate manager.
However this incident was after the Heiner Inquiry was wound up and evidence gathered during the interviews were shredded in March 1990.
The Carmody Inquiry has this week been told that the John Oxley Youth Centre – known by staff as "Joyce" or "John Oxley" – was riddled with staff factions.
Mr Coyne had been criticised by some former staff as playing "mind games", keeping secret files on staff and having unprofessional management style, including having juveniles as young as 11 handcuffed to fences and grates.
But other former staff have given evidence that Mr Coyne was approachable, professional and dedicated.
Mr Coyne had a policy of having youth workers move through the centre after two or three years, the hearing has been told.
However the inquiry has also heard that 35 separate employees resigned while Mr Coyne was the centre manager.
Four staff resigned under the previous manager.
The hearing continues in Brisbane's Magistrates Court on Monday.
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