St Ann's Special School Abuse: Royal Commission Finds School, Catholic Church, Police Failed Abused Children

ABC News
June 4, 2015

PHOTO: Bus driver Brian Perkins was hired by St Ann's Special School without a police check.

RELATED STORY: Child institutions 'should be monitored' by national organisation

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A number of failings by St Ann's Special School, the police and Catholic Church have been found by an inquiry examining the sexual abuse of a number of intellectually disabled students.

About 30 students were sexually abused by bus driver Brian Perkins in the late 1980s and early '90s.

But it was not until 2003 that he was convicted of abusing three children.

The abuse often went unreported because most of his victims could not speak.

Perkins took children with intellectual and communication disabilities to and from school each day unsupervised from 1986 to 1991.

He also undertook volunteer work and provided respite care for students during his employment.

The commission found a lack of requirements by the school and the Catholic Education Office surrounding police checks on employees enabled Perkins' employment.

Perkins had previously been convicted for sexual offences.

The commission said a police check would have likely disclosed that Perkins had three prior convictions for sexual offences.

It found the school did not comply with its own policy requiring volunteers be supervised by a registered teacher, which created further opportunities for Perkins to sexually abuse children in his care.

Commissioners also found the school principal, Claude Hamam, failed to report the initial allegations of abuse to the school board or Catholic Education Office, despite a requirement to do so.

The Catholic Church was found to have failed to take appropriate action to report and investigate the allegations when they surfaced, and did not keep families and children informed and protected.

The commissioners also found the church did not provide an adequate response to some of the victims' families by offering them gifts.

But the commission acknowledged, since 2001, the Catholic Education Office has created a principal consultant position providing a first point of contact for principals reporting abuse allegations.

Police investigations in 1991 'inadequate'

After complaints were made about Perkins in 1991, police investigated and pornographic images of students who attended the school were found at his home.

In 2003 that Perkins was convicted of five sexual offences against three students, and sentenced to 10 years' jail.

He died in prison in 2009.

The hearing also looked into the investigation by South Australian Police.

Commissioners found that a series of failings by police meant years of delay in bringing Perkins to trial.

These included officers failing to issue a warrant for Perkins' arrest in 1991 despite having information about his prior convictions, the nature of the allegations against him and the risk he posed to other children.

In 1998 police discovered Perkins' was living in Queensland, but declined to apply to extradite him.

A SA Police spokesperson today accepted that the force's response in 1991 was not adequate.

"In the 25 years which have passed since, SAPOL has made numerous policy, process and procedural improvements, in line with national and international best practice," the spokesperson said.

SA Police have since established a Special Crimes Investigation Branch incorporating a dedicated victim management section specifically trained in the forensic interviewing of children, the spokesperson said.

The Catholic Church said it would comment once its had a chance to review the findings.

Victims' parents call for independent regulation body

Helen Gitsham's son David was one of the children abused by Perkins.

Ms Gitsham said while the commission had provided some comfort, she would still like to see an independent body to regulate agencies' handling of abuse allegations established.

"I know various agencies, including the Catholic Church and the police, they keep telling us that they have so many more procedures in place now and perhaps these things wouldn't happen ... but it is still self-regulating and we don't have confidence self-regulation works," she said.

For so long, no one heard us, no one was prepared to listen to us. We had a lot of questions to ask, we wanted to know the truth about why it [the trial] was left for 10 years.

Victim's parent, Helen Gitsham

"There's always self-interest at the heart of everything and victims, certainly in this instance, were not the primary focus. It was self-regulation, self-interest and self-protection.

"So we would want some independent body that would monitor what these agencies are doing when there are allegations of sexual abuse.

"Not only have it collated and monitored, but have a review every 12 months, to make sure those complaints are being handled properly, because we are not sure that this is going to happen."

Ms Gitsham said the royal commission had given her family answers they had been waiting 20 years to hear.

"For so long, no-one heard us, no-one was prepared to listen to us," she said.

"We had a lot of questions to ask, we wanted to know the truth about why it [the trial] was left for 10 years.

So once the royal commission was in place and wanted this issue brought before it we had access to all of the documents that were subpoenaed, and that gave us a lot of answers."








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