In previous evidence, on the Jonathan Lord case (see previous posting), at the second “case study” hearing by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, there were inconsistencies between that given by the YMCA and the New South Wales state police service.
Much of the inconsistency revolved around whether or not police advised the YMCA to suppress information about the Lord case. Police deny restrictions were advocated, while the YMCA now admits it may have over-reacted by forcing staff to sign confidentiality agreements, under pain of dismissal, and not giving parents relevant information.
Detective Superintendent Maria Rustja, commander of the NSW Police child abuse squad, told the enquiry that the investigative and response system across agencies was focused on protecting children, so it might not work for all parents. Supt Rustja said there is a tri-agency response to cases of child sex abuse, the police, the NSW state family and community services agency and the health department. She said it worked efficiently and quickly and had child welfare at its core because the “child is telling you the most traumatic event in its life.”
The Lord case, she said, was unusual in that the joint-investigation response team dealt more frequently with single and inter-family cases. Judgments had to be made around legal and child support demands as well as involvement of parents.
She admitted that there was probably a gap – and police and the other agencies were now drafting proposals that would help the commission. Supt Rustja said, in the early days of the investigation, she thought it fine that the YMCA should contact families, but they were advised they could not identify victims or name the suspect. There was no suppression order on identifying Lord at the time, but one was later put in place.
Rustja told the enquiry that “It is clear that whilst we had the hotline set up, there was confusion in the community about who to ring and how to get the information. That is clear, and we have already put something together which we think may assist the Commission and assist more importantly, though, assist the families in these circumstances in the future about the hotline – this point of contact. “
Previously, at the enquiry, parents had complained about police procedures in handling their complaints against Lord, and in particular the interviewing of their children. Rustja defended the police protocol of interviewing child victims without their parents in the room, although she admitted that police were required to tell parents about the content of those interviews. She conceded that, if parents had not been told of what happened to their children, it would have been contrary to requirements.
Detective Senior Sergeant Glyn Baker, of the child abuse squad, confirmed other police witnesses’ testimony that police had never required the YMCA to withhold Lord’s name, but gave YMCA officials advice and guidance. He said the YMCA was “running scared”, which he explained as meaning that the YMCA “had been difficult to control.” He referred to the fact that a YMCA email, with a letter, had gone out to about 500 families. However, there had been no contact with police, and this letter, containing incorrect information to contact Miranda detectives, had gone out. That was creating difficulties for police because police weren’t involved in any of those communications. As police conducted their investigations, the YMCA held a meeting for parents, but Detective Baker said it was something that police were reluctant to attend.
He said that police were “in the very early stages of a serious criminal investigation” and that “there were multiple issues that we had to manage. Those issues included serious contamination of evidence. If we were to walk into a meeting shortly afterwards, and provide Lord’s name, would parents be talking to one another about children’s disclosures? Would children be talking to one another about each other’s disclosures? Would the versions be diluted or contaminated? Every decision that we had to make at that early stage in the investigation was to advance the criminal investigation.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Baker told the hearing that a telephone “hotline” was set up for concerned parents at the Caringbah YMCA, but only after more than one victim came forward. He acknowledged the hotline could have been implemented sooner, which would have “started to address concerns of parents and caregivers.”
Baker informed the enquiry that the YMCA had “sought an urgent meeting with us and they wanted advice and guidance.” He said that police had, indeed, “provided advice” to the YMCA during the early stages of the investigation, including a recommendation not to disclose the identity of Lord. This recommendation was because police had “a duty of care to everybody. That duty of care extended to Mr Lord as well.”
Finally, an internal police memo, by Detective Sergeant Stacey Maloney, was tended to the enquiry as evidence. It revealed that the YMCA had been “neglectful in the protection” of children in out-of-school care, and that Maloney had “concerns about the lack of formal checks completed regarding the employment history of the accused [Lord]”.
Overall, police came out of it all looking markedly less incompetent the YMCA.
Read more here:
TOMORROW: What the sacked staffer said
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)