Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry News and Updates

Heiner at risk from legal games 

Piers Akerman Tuesday, December, 04, 2012, (7:46am)

 THE LID is slowly being lifted on the infamous child abuse file shredding Heiner Affair.

Without being too optimistic, there is the possibility that those seeking justice may finally be heard though the process will be exhaustive.

Yesterday, the Newman government’s inquiry was told that lawyers advised Queensland’sGoss Labor government to destroy secret evidence into allegations of mismanagement at the John Oxley youth detention facility amid legal during a flurry of union legal threats 23 years ago.

The Child Protection Inquiry was told confusion reigned about the legal standing and immunity for witnesses to former magistrate Noel Heiner’s inquiry after it was created in late November 1989.

At the heart of the long-running controversy is the decision taken by the Goss Labor government in March 1990 to shred material including staff interviews and tapes from the ill-fated Heiner investigation into allegations of abuse and bullying when it was known that some of the documents were needed as evidence.

Counsel assisting the inquiry, Michael Copley SC, has submitted 153 detailed exhibits from late 1989 and 1990 revealing how tensions at the centre rose, the inquiry commenced, and was almost immediately derailed by concerns over its constitution.

Crown Solicitor legal officer Barry Thomas was the first to advise the government, in January 1990, to destroy evidence created by Mr Heiner due to concerns over witness protection from prosecution given the defamatory nature of some evidence.

“I believe the safest course would be the immediate destruction of them to ensure confidentiality and to overcome any claim of bias if such documents somehow became available to a new investigation,” he wrote at the time in a letter submitted at the inquiry.

The crown solicitor, Kenneth O’Shea, the state archivist and eventually cabinet all approved the destruction of the information.

But the shredding occurred despite threats of legal action from John Oxley centre manager Peter Coyne.

He was concerned about possible imputations against him contained in the evidence. Contemporaneous legal letters from solicitor Ian Berry, now a backbencher in the Newman government, also threatened legal action from the centre’s deputy manager.

It also emerged Mr Heiner, who died in 2008, refused to continue the inquiry from January 19, 1990, amid concerns it was invalid, and had sought government immunity.

Political figures from the era, including premier Wayne Goss and his chief-of-staff Kevin Rudd, could be among more than 140 witnesses to give evidence in this section of the inquiry.

The inquiry also heard staff complained they were “forced” to handcuff children at the centre for discipline.

Another key aspect of the inquiry will focus on the rape of at least one Aboriginal girl in custody at the centre.

Questions of conflict still hang over former Family Court judge Tim Carmody, who is heading the inquiry.

Just getting to this point is a small victory for those who have been demanding a hearing over the past two decades.

But there is a very long way to go and hearings can take off on tangents that sometimes lead into legal deserts.

Sharp focus will have to be maintained to ensure that those who stand to lose the most do not frustrate this inquiry with legalistic games.

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