The case of Cardinal Bernard Law, in the U.S., came to light through investigative journalism. Similarly, the Newcastle-Maitland problems saw the light of day ultimately through the investigative efforts of Fairfax journalist, Joanne McCarthy, of the Newcastle Herald. For this she was awarded the title of Australian Journalist of the Year.
This week she gave evidence to the New South Wales enquiry into clerical child sexual abuse. There, she said that “It was about having the victims and their families looked after…I didn’t want to go the police…I wanted the police to investigate… It was my only aim.”
It is almost impossible for an investigative journalist not to become part of the story. It is much easier to cover the local school fete and similar low-involvement stories. Ms. McCarthy is not a hack. By the time she had heard a few victim stories, she could not avoid seeing the story through to its natural conclusion.
Those who have heard victims tell their stories (for the first time for many of these victims), the effect can be profound. Those who might be inclined to be critical of her should bear this in mind. They should ask themselves – What would I have done?
The process of “radicalization” appears to have begun when a former police officer, Shaun McLeod, called her in 2008 to give her information about his investigation and to ask her to write an opinion piece. She said he was hoping it would “prompt people to come forward” with allegations. It did.
Ms. McCarthy also told the inquiry she was phoned, in 2010, by another senior police officer in the area who said the internal Church documents she’d supplied to investigators would not lead to a prosecution. That officer, Stephen Ray, told her that in regards to the Catholic Church, prosecutions weren’t the way to go. He said a Truth and Reconciliation Commission might be the better way to go.
This attitude was reflective of a general community attitude which clearly disturbed Ms. McCarthy. She told the enquiry that, after years of writing about paedophile priests, she would hear comments from the community such as, ‘but it’s the church’ or ‘(Bishop Michael) Malone has done such good work’. Her reply, she said, was always, “yes, but these are crimes.”
By the time Detective Chief Inspector Fox came along, Ms. McCarthy was primed to be receptive to someone with a less dismissive approach to the issue of paedophile priests. As she told the enquiry, Detective Chief Inspector Fox had a “different approach” to other police, because “he was keen” and it was like he had “jumped the hurdle” that other officers faced. She described Peter Fox as having a different approach to his investigations, saying he was pretty keen compared to other police.
As the issue in the Newcastle area gained momentum, and public attention, the New South Wales Assistant Police Commissioner, Max Mitchell, bore the brunt of Ms. McCarthy’s ire over a matter where a victim was badly treated when giving evidence of abuse.
Mr. Mitchell’s response was, according to Ms. McCarthy, “bizarre.” The Assistant Commissioner had invited her to a meeting with senior police to “give them some tips” on handling of the abuses. At the meeting, she was asked for the names and numbers of abuse victims, which she said “threw her,” and she “did not want to be there.”
Ms. McCarthy must now be fully convinced of the old line from journalism school that sometimes stories gain a life of their own. Whatever the motivations of the individual players – police, journalists, victims, Catholic Church officials, etc. – the story will go on, regardless.
Read more here:
TOMORROW: An old copper speaks out
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)