Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry News and Updates
THE BRISBANE TIMES
Sex abuse allegations were raised in Heiner inquiry: witness
Date December 13, 2012 - 12:01AM
Tony Moore senior reporter
Suspicions that a sexual assault allegation was mentioned among shredded evidence from an inquiry two decades ago was given added weight yesterday during a child protection inquiry in Brisbane.
Former youth worker Irene Parfitt told the Carmody inquiry she "strongly believed" she told retired magistrate Noel Heiner, who investigated staff management at the John Oxley Youth Centre in 1989, of the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl.
Supporters of the girl believe evidence of the alleged sexual assault in May 1988 was included in evidence gathered by Mr Heiner, which was subsequently shredded by the new Goss government in March 1990, citing defamation fears.
Ms Parfitt told yesterday's inquiry hearings that she gave her evidence to Mr Heiner at the Children's Court building in Brisbane.
At the time, she was employed as Irene Colmer and was acting as the centre's senior youth worker.
Ms Parfitt said she spoke of a single incident of a sexual assault at an interview with Noel Heiner sometime in late 1989.
"My knowledge of a young female (who'd) been subject to rape by some fellow residents," Ms Parfitt told the court.
Under questioning by counsel assisting the Carmody inquiry Michael Copley, Ms Parfitt said she firmly believed she raised the issue with Mr Heiner.
Mr Copley: "So you're positive that you – 100 per cent sure that you mentioned the (14-year-old girl's sex assault) incident to Mr Heiner?"
Ms Parfitt: "Yes."
Ms Parfitt told the hearing the issue was well known when she arrived at work the morning after the incident.
"The best that I can recall would have been that it was the talk of the centre," she said.
"There was probably five boys involved, one female, on and excursions with some education officers. I recall that she was kept a little secluded for a while."
Until yesterday's evidence, there had been no firm evidence that Mr Heiner was ever told of any sexual abuse at the centre during his inquiry.
Witnesses have emphatically denied any sexual assault incidents took place at the centre and that Mr Heiner asked no questions about it.
Ms Parfitt said it was her belief at the time "the department" was asking for trouble by taking just one girl with "four or five boys" on the excursion.
Commissioner Tim Carmody asked Ms Parfitt if she believed the incident was the result of "poor practice".
"Yes, I did," she replied.
Earlier this week, the inquiry heard how the students going on the excursion were chosen during a pre-planning program, overseen by then-centre manager Peter Coyne.
Exhibits tabled at the inquiry make clear the alleged sexual assault was reported through the Queensland public service in May and June 1988 and two juvenile aid bureau police arrived at the centre to take a statement on May 28, but the then-14-year-old girl declined to make a formal complaint to police.
Ms Parfitt said she did not know if the girl's mother had been bought the centre, if the girl was examined by a doctor, or if police came to speak to the girl.
Mr Coyne told the inquiry on Monday that he felt the girl should have made a complaint to police.
Ms Parfitt said she felt "unsafe and unprotected" while working as a youth worker at the centre, but secure while working in the kitchen at the Leslie Wilson Centre.
Under cross-examination by both Michael Bosscher, for whistleblower Kevin Lindeberg, and Gordon Harris, for the girl, she maintained she told Mr Heiner of the assault.
She told Mr Harris the girl went "quiet" after the incident.
"Because she was quite a lively, outgoing person, and I just remember thinking, 'she's got quiet'," Ms Parfitt said.
In evidence on Tuesday, Mr Coyne said he was not asked questions by Mr Heiner about sex abuse at the John Oxley Youth Centre, because it never happened.
"The only comment that's been made to me about the Heiner inquiry relating to child abuse or sexual abuse was made by Kevin Lindeberg," Mr Coyne said.
Mr Coyne believed he had been denied "natural justice" when allegations were raised against him and he was never given the opportunity to answer the claims.