Yesterday, the NSW Special Commission of Enquiry handed down its final report. The commission of enquiry was established by former NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, soon after Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox came forward in late 2012 expressing concern about how he’d been asked to stand down from an investigation of a possible cover-up of a child abuse case implicating the Catholic Church in the NSW Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle. DCI Fox was concerned about the startlingly high number of child abuse allegations against the Catholic Church in such a small geographical area as the diocese.
DCI Fox first become concerned about possible collusion between some police officers and the Catholic Church as a possible explanation for the problem in 2002. Eventually, after years of behind-the-scenes activity, in frustration at lack of action in dealing with the problems he observed, he took the only recourse available to him: speaking to the media.
He did so out of concern for victims and their families, and for protection of children in the future. Speaking on ABC’s Lateline program in late 2012, DCI Fox said:
“There’s something very wrong when you have so many paedophile priests operating in such a small area for such an extended period of time with immunity.”
During the special commission of enquiry, DCI Fox expressed his lack of trust in some of his police colleagues in handling of abuse cases and claimed that a colleague told him about a “Catholic mafia” operating within the ranks of the Newcastle police.
Concerns about the existence of unhealthily close relationships between some members of the police and the Catholic Church in Australia at times is nothing new. In the book “Unholy Trinity: the Hunt for the Paedophile Priest Monsignor John Day”, former Victorian police officer, Denis (‘Dinny’) Ryan also talked about the existence of a “Catholic mafia” within the Victorian police force decades ago, which he alleges actively protected paedophile priests such as Monsignor John Day, with collusion from the highest levels of the Catholic Church in Victoria.
So when DCI Fox came forward talking about the possible existence of similar problems within parts of the NSW police force, it came as little surprise to those who know of the history of the Catholic Church in actively working to shield abusers within their ranks from exposure and prosecution. And who know that the church is willing to use underhand tactics wherever necessary.
What DCI Fox had to say, however, did shock the majority of Australian society. And rightfully so. The integrity of the police is integral to operation of the justice system. Any whiff of impropriety or undue influence being exerted by organisations such as the Catholic Church is a cause for enormous concern.
DCI Fox did not allege that corruption was endemic within the NSW police force. His concerns related to some high-ranking officers and their failure, in his view, to adequately pursue those who had covered up child abuse within the Catholic Church. He said:
“My criticism was aimed at the failure of senior police to target, investigate and take action against those covering up child abuse.”
No right-thinking person could fail to share DCI Fox’s concerns. Even if only a handful of police officers had improper relationships with the Catholic Church, this needs to be investigated fully.
It was disheartening to read, therefore, that the special commission yesterday has largely rejected DCI Fox’s evidence. Worse, DCI Fox has been painted as a liar. Media reports on the special commission today lead with bald headlines slamming DCI Fox and his credibility:
“Church abuse inquiry rejects claims of ‘obsessed’ detective Peter Fox”
“Special Commission of Inquiry clears police, finds whistleblower Peter Fox ‘not credible’ over child abuse cover-up claims”
The danger now is that the Australian public will form the impression that there is no substance to DCI Fox’s allegations. The danger is that they will think that everything is hunky dory and that there are no problems of improper relationships between elements of the police and the Catholic Church in Australia.
This is cause for great concern. Because despite the findings of the special commission, the jury is still very much out on the issue of improper relationships between some law enforcement officers and parts of the Catholic Church. There are several reasons to claim this:
Firstly, it needs to be understood that he special commission was established with incredibly narrow terms of reference. This ensured that considerable amounts of evidence that DCI Fox wanted to provide to the special commission could not be supplied. It should also be understood that DCI Fox was also precluded from speaking on matters that would have helped us to know the extent of problems of too-close relationships between law enforcement and the Catholic Church. Put simply, we have not been presented with all the evidence.
Secondly, it does not appear from its reports that the special commission has looked very closely at material identified by other people concerned about the issues. For example, in late 2013, Greens MP David Shoebridge obtained, through Freedom of Information (FOI), astonishing evidence that two attempts were made to finalise memorandums of understanding (MOUs) between NSW police and the Catholic Church over how to deal with complaints of sexual and physical abuse by Catholic Church personnel.
A clause in one MOU says:
“Church authorities shall make available the report of an assessment and any other matter relevant to the accused’s account of events only if required to do so by court order.”
Barrister Geoffrey Watson SC is reported as saying that:
“When I looked at the MOUs they were really in effect trying to get the police to condone the failure to comply with that law, or even perhaps worse, get the police to participate in that.”
The NSW police deny that either MOU was ever signed, or in force, a claim that is refuted by the Catholic Church itself. According to Michael Salmon, director of the Professional Standards Resource Group of the Catholic Church in NSW in relation to one of the MOUs:
“We were practising the provisions of the MOU and dealing with the police under those provisions.”
“We had an understanding from police it was approved.”
“We had a line of communications with the police and all indications from the police were that the MOU was approved from their end.”
There is only a cursory reference to an MOU in the second volume of the special commission’s report.
Thirdly, there is reason for concern that premature reporting of the special commission’s findings by The Australian may have actually influenced the final outcome of the special commission by painting (see Read more here below for more information) its conclusions as foregone, and possibly dissuading other witnesses who may have been able to back up Peter Fox’s evidence from coming forward at the 11th hour. Even if this is a slim possibility, it needs to be considered.
Finally, it beggars belief that anyone could suggest that DCI Fox would not have done what he did and said what he did if he did not have extremely good evidence in support of his allegations. DCI Fox and his family have been put through an ordeal few of us would have the strength to endure. He has been subjected to threats, intimidation, and gruelling cross-examinations for over a year now. DCI Fox’s brave stance has led to absolutely no personal benefit to himself or his family. Quite the opposite. Intuitively, even without the benefit of being able to see the evidence that DCI Fox was precluded from providing to the special commission, we all know instinctively that there is much more to this matter that we are not being told. DCI Fox still stands by his allegations, despite the special commission’s findings. We need to be asking why.
In short, despite the special commission’s findings, there is still reason to push, and push hard, to see DCI Fox’s allegations re-investigated, and re-investigated in full.
It is now incumbent upon the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to announce that it will undertake its own investigation of the matters raised by DCI Fox and MLP David Shoebridge. Without the fetters of the limited terms of reference of the special commission, it can and should be able to get to the bottom of a potentially serious problem in the Australian system of justice.
And it should not confine itself to the NSW police. As one commentator said:
“We should also be asking about the existence of similar illegal arrangements in other Australian states, especially those states whose police forces have been most tightly controlled by the catholic mafia.
Readers of this blog are therefore urged to write to or phone the Royal Commission asking it to initiate a full investigation of potentially improper relationships between law enforcement officers and the Catholic Church. For contact details, go here: www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au Alternatively, you can Tweet at it: @
But there is more we need to do. It’s all too easy to look at DCI Fox, who, despite the ordeals he’s endured, appears to stand strong and resolute in his stance, and say: “He’s obviously a tough bloke. He’ll be okay.” Yes, DCI Fox knew the path he was walking when he came forward, but we must acknowledge and pay respect to him for the ordeals he and his family have endured in his quest to protect Australian children from abuse. Despite all DCI Fox has endured, he still said today that if he had to go through it all again: “I would not hesitate to walk the same path.” How many of us could say the same?
As David Shoebridge said today:
“Survivors and ordinary Australians around the country reacted spontaneously and enthusiastically to the bravery of DCI Fox who put his career on the line for the sake of victims.
When DCI Fox first stepped forward, Australians were prolific in their expressions of support for this brave man. It’s time to show this support once more at this critical juncture in DCI Fox’s path in life.
But let’s also think about all the other people who will in the future stand in their truth in the interests of justice. Again, to quote David Shoebridge:
“It is an all too common outcome that the bravery of a whistleblower is lost when the institutions that are threatened turn their full resources on attacking their credibility.”
DCI Fox may stand strong in his truth, but others in the future may not have the full extent of his resilience and may crack under the pressure brought to bear on him and his family throughout the course of the special commission. For the sake of justice and truth, we must actively show not just DCI Fox but all future whistleblowers that we will applaud their courage, and will get behind them when the going gets tough, as it now has.
We therefore urge anyone in Sydney to come along and attend a rally being held today, the 31st of May, at 10.30am outside the NSW Parliament (Martin Place, near Macquarie Street) in support of DCI Fox and calling for the Royal Commission to take up where the NSW special commission left off and finally get to the bottom of the very serious issue of potential collusion between law enforcement officers and the Catholic Church in shielding child abusers.
We also ask you to jump on social media (Twitter, facebook, etc.) and express your support for DCI Fox and your support for the Royal Commission to now get involved in uncovering the truth. If you’re using Twitter, please use the hashtags #foxhero and direct your message to @.
DCI Fox stood up for the protection of Australian children. Let’s now stand up for DCI Fox and the truth.
Read more here:
Nicky Davis and Aletha Blayse
[Postscript: Well done to Nicky and all the other wonderful Peter Fox supporters in Sydney for organising this rally].
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