SPECIAL NOTE: The Australian Broadcasting Corporation television (ABC 2 / Ch. 24 digital) will be re-screening the “Four Corners” program from 2003, detailing abuses by the Salvation Army at its Children’s Homes – titled “The Homies”.
The program will run at 8 p.m. (daylight Saving time – 7.p.m. Queensland time) on this coming Saturday night – 1st February, 2014. The author and one of the men who gave evidence this week, Wally McLeod, were interviewed in the program by top ABC investigative journalist, Quentin McDermott, along with a few other men and women.
The program was ground-breaking at a time when there was little public awareness of the issues. Now that the royal commission is revisiting four Salvation Army Boys’ Homes, Alkira, Bexley, Gill, and Riverview, it again becomes particularly relevant. People will soon realize just how far ahead of its time this program was.
Special thanks are also due to prominent ABC radio journalist, Emily Bourke, for her efforts in getting the ABC to agree to re-run the program. Emily does the AM, PM, Radio National and World Today programs, and has helped the author cope with the disappointment of not being given permission by chief commissioner, Peter McClellan, to appear before the commission.
Readers are strongly urged to watch the program, and to tell as many other people as possible about it.
It would also be good if someone could record so that it can be posted on-line, if the ABC agrees, with all due acknowledgement, or be available for viewing by those unable to watch it live on Saturday night.
[First person comment: Unlimited thanks to Quentin, Emily and Morag.]
Image: Salvation Army Bexley Boys’ Home boys in the chapel
Today’s hearings of the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse have focused on Wilson, McIver, and events at Riverview, Alkira and Bexley Boys’ Homes. It has also heard evidence from police concerning enquiries into the matter.
The most concerning thing to come out of today’s hearings is that boys were rented out (‘pimped’) to other predators by Salvation Army officers from the Boys’ Homes. Witness, ‘FV’, told the enquiry in a statement (he was too upset to read it himself) that he had been sent to three properties where he was raped and abused. The man who organized the trips was Salvation Army officer, Lawrence Wilson.
FV’s statement, read to the commission, stated that: “I had been called to Wilson’s office [and] when I arrived there was a man and a woman in the office with Wilson. Wilson told me that I had to go with the couple. I left Bexley with them and they drove to a house in Punchbowl.”
Over the ensuing hours, the man and the woman indecently assaulted and attempted to rape FV, until he managed to escape to the Bexley home. FV said the couple were in Salvation Army uniforms and the woman “had short blond hair and looked to be in her 30s.”
When he returned and told Captain Wilson what had happened, he was told the couple were ”good people” and was caned approximately 18 times. He was then sent to a poultry farm and the home of two women and was allegedly assaulted on both occasions. FV’s statement said that: “The sexual attacks on myself are the hardest things to deal with, one day you are a boy the next you are a shell walking around. You leave the boy somewhere but one thing for sure is, you can never find him again.”
FV was savagely attacked by Mr Wilson one day for laughing. His statement read that: “One thing I will never forget was the day Wilson dragged me along the hall, caned me and then bashed me like a bulldog tearing apart a rag doll.”
FV said Bexley made him tough but he still has nightmares so intense he cannot get back to sleep, and the experiences damaged him so badly that he had never felt comfortable cuddling his own children.
He said Wilson was arrogant and unforgiving. “He used a variety of canes for hitting us kids and he would do it without hesitation.” FV and his two sisters and brother had ended up in Children’s Homes after their father died and their mother had a breakdown. He said that on the first night at Bexley, his younger brother, aged about 11, was raped.
Yet FV, who finished his evidence to applause from the public gallery, said that when he and other boys came forward to talk about their abuse, the Salvation Army brushed them off. “The Salvos could have made it easier if, once we had all started to come forward, they had helped us. Instead they called us liars. But we are not scared of Wilson anymore.”
[First person note: The author was abused by Wilson at Alkira].
The commission heard FV’s case was one of dozens of alleged rapes and indecent assaults against boys at Bexley Salvation Army Boys’ Home that were reported to police years later but never came to court because of the victims’ fading memories and investigators’ reluctance to ”fish for victims”.
Another man told the commission that the boys, who lived at the Salvation Army Bexley Home in Sydney, would sometimes be sexually abused by men who broke into their rooms at night.
His statement read that Wilson: “physically raped me in his office within a few months of being there and it happened several more times. You would be sent out to stay with other people and they would do it to you or there were the prowlers, men who allegedly broke into the place at night and tampered with the boys. Even now I still can’t sleep… Wilson got me out of bed at night times. Sometimes it was strangers who came up the fire escape … old men came in at night. There was no supervision.”
Another Bexley boy,’ ET’, told the enquiry how Wilson arrived at the home claiming to be a nurse. “And often under medical examination captain Wilson would ask me to go and get one of the young boys from the playground so that Wilson could conduct a ‘full medical examination’ on them. I was told which boy to get from the playground.”
“Wilson would ask me to get different boys on different occasions. They were all young; they were never high school boys, they were all primary school boys. Wilson would take the boy into his office, close the door. I could hear the young boy crying or begging for Wilson to stop.”
When asked how many boys he thought he went and led up to Wilson’s office, ET replied that: “I took many boys. I lost count, I was… every Saturday, I would get them for him because I had to answer the phones and answer the doors for him so that the boys that were going away with their parents could take them. It was the ones that were left behind that Wilson would examine.”
As the ABC’s Emily Bourke reported, victim EP told the inquiry that a ‘bear pit’ mentality prevailed in the boys’ dormitories. A victim impact statement from EP was read by counsel assisting Simeon Beckett.
It read: “You were on the defensive all the time. You were on the lookout all the time. You could never sleep through the whole night. You’d lie there waiting for somebody to come and get you. Even now I still can’t sleep. There, you’d get visited in the night, so you were scared; you couldn’t fall asleep. I’d force myself to stay awake. Wilson got me out of bed at night times. Sometimes it was strangers who came up the fire escape.”
Wilson, described by counsel assisting the commission as “the most serious offender” in Sydney, was eventually charged with 19 offences involving buggery and assault but was tried and acquitted in 1997. NSW police could not find enough evidence in 1998 to charge Mr Wilson with running a pedophile ring.
Wilson died in 2008 the same year the Salvation Army reported allegations against him, related to the time he was at Bexley and in Queensland. However, the worst sex fiend in the Salvation Army was dismissed not for raping young boys – but because he had slept with his fiancé!
The hypocrisy of the Salvation Army has been exposed, because despite leaving a trail of abused young boys at four Salvation Army homes, Wilson was recommended for promotion to major in 1982. It was, however, denied.
The only time he was sacked from the Salvation Army was in 1961, after already having raped young boys at Riverview and Indooroopilly (Alkira). He then became a child welfare officer with the NSW Child Welfare Department where he was severely reprimanded for violence towards the young people as well as caught out lying about having ‘medical experience’. He left in 1965.
He then got a job back when the Salvation Army took him back into their ranks in 1966. Wilson was later appointed manager at The Gill Memorial Boys’ Home and then at the Bexley Boys’ Home.
Wilson was eventually charged with 19 sex offences in 1997, after a police task force was set up in the wake of the Wood Royal Commission to investigate the cover-up of pedophiles, but he was acquitted. Earlier, in 1994, Wilson had fronted court charged with buggery, common assault and other offences but he was later cleared.
The Salvation Army had refused to cover Wilson’s legal costs and had: “expressed surprise at his acquittal.” Wilson went on to serve the Army at Mackay and Cairns. He went to his grave without ever having been convicted over the sadistic sexual and physical violence he subjected at least 15 victims to during his time at boys’ homes in NSW and Queensland.
A married couple who were dismissed from the army after complaining about Wilson’s “sick parades” – a process where he had the boys line up to be privately examined for “medical” purposes, will give evidence before the commission when the hearing resumes on Friday.
The Salvation Army had long known of the problems with Wilson. As far back as 1977, it was noted by a Salvation Army headquarters official that: “I feel we are dealing with a very sick man, namely Captain Laurie Wilson.”
Another alleged Salvation Army abuser, John McIver, at the commencement of the hearings, was still an officer in the organization. On Tuesday the Salvation Army head, James Condom, indicated McIver’s future was being considered. However, today the Salvation Army suspended McIver.
A Salvation Army press release today read: “In light of evidence tendered to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, the Salvation Army has suspended retired Salvation Army officer John McIver pending further investigations in regards to the matters raised.” But not sacked.
Major McIver has been described in the royal commission as “brutal”.
He is accused of sexually assaulting a young boy known as GA at Bexley, fondled the boy’s genitals, and then threatening to “beat the life” out of him if he told anyone. The Salvation Army later paid GA $40,000 in compensation.
Major McIver is also accused of throwing a boy known as FT onto a concrete walkway at the Bexley Boys’ Home and raping a boy identified as EK at the Indooroopilly Boys’ Home (Alkira).On other occasions at Indooroopilly he allegedly burnt a boy on the leg with a cigarette (Salvos aren’t supposed to smoke) and whipped a boy’s genitals with a strap.
The enquiry was told that two staff at the Alkira home tried to help a boy who had been assaulted by McIver. When they attempted to take a boy to hospital after McIver had dislocated his shoulder, he refused them the use of the car and forced the arm of the boy back into its socket.
The Queensland Department of Children’s Services was notified as early as October 1974 of McIver’s actions, but only concluded that: “the punishment administered was excessive.” McIver has not attended the commission’s hearings, and to date has not been called for examination.
In the light of the present findings alone, Prime Minister Tony Abbott should review the suitability of the Salvation Army to receive taxpayer funding for its “at risk” and homeless youth programs. (The Salvation Army receives 47% of its money from the government.)
The present contracts should be given to other organizations, at least until the Royal Commission releases its final report.
[Postscript: While the author was refused permission by the chief commissioner, Peter McClellan, to give evidence, or present a submission, to the enquiry, this blog will continue to supplement evidence given to the enquiry, especially on Alkira. As the saying goes – “There is more than one way to skin a cat!”]
Read more here:
TOMORROW: What the officials did and didn’t do
That’s all I can say
Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)