The Royal Commission’s Report of Case Study No. 9 – the responses of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide and the South Australian Police to allegations of child sexual abuse at St Ann’s Special School, was released today.
The report found that a lack of requirements surrounding police checks on employees enabled a man previously convicted for sexual offences to work as a bus driver at a special school in Adelaide. This man later went on to sexually abuse children with intellectual disabilities.
St Ann's Special School was established in 1975 and catered for 50 to 60 students with intellectual disabilities aged between five and 20 years.
In 1986 Brian Perkins was employed by the school as a bus driver. He took children with intellectual and communication disabilities to and from school each day unsupervised. He also undertook volunteer work and provided respite care for students during his employment.
A public hearing into the matter which was held in Adelaide in March 2014, examined the circumstances surrounding Mr Perkins employment and the monitoring, supervision and oversight of his activities at the school.
In 1986, St Ann’s was not required to conduct a police clearance check as part of its employment process. Neither the school nor the Catholic Education Office had established mechanisms in place for the conduct of these checks. The principal, Mr Claude Hamam, did not obtain a police clearance check before employing Mr Perkins. Such a police check would likely have disclosed that Mr Perkins had three prior convictions for sexual offences.
Commissioners found that the school did not comply with its own policy requiring that volunteers be supervised by a registered teacher, which created further opportunities for Mr Perkins to sexually abuse children in his care.
They also found that the Catholic Education Office did not have a policy on respite care by employees or volunteers.
After complaints were made about Mr Perkins in 1991, police investigated and pornographic photographs of students who attended the school were found at his home. However it was not until 2003 that Mr Perkins was convicted of five sexual offences against three students at St Ann’s and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment. The hearing also looked at the response of the principal, the board of St Ann’s and the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, including the Catholic Education Office, to allegations of child sexual abuse.
Commissioners found that the school principal did not inform the board of management, the board of governors or the director of the Catholic Education Office of the sexual allegations regarding Mr Perkins, despite requirements to do so. Commissioners found that Church parties failed to take appropriate action in ensuring the matters were fully reported and investigated and that families concerned were informed and children protected.
However, since 2001, the Catholic Education Office has created a new position of principal consultant who works directly with school principals and provides an initial point of contact for reporting abuse allegations to the Catholic Education Office.
The hearing also examined the nature of the investigation by the South Australia Police (SAPOL) and found a series of failings by SAPOL, combined with poor practices and systems, contributed to years of delay in bringing Mr Perkins to trial.
These included police officers failing to issue a warrant for the arrest of Mr Perkins in 1991 despite having information about his prior convictions, the nature of sexual allegations against him and the risk he posed of further sexual offences against children.
In 1998, it was discovered Mr Perkins was living in Queensland, but police declined to apply to extradite Mr Perkins on the basis of inaccurate information, including the seriousness of the charges.
Commissioners also found police did not inform the broader school community of the sexual allegations against Mr Perkins despite being aware that other former students with intellectual disabilities and limited verbal capacity may have made contact with Mr Perkins.
The hearing also examined the Church's response to allegations of abuse. Commissioners found that the Church did not follow processes set out in Towards Healing, the Catholic Church's principles and procedures in responding to complaints of abuse against Catholic Church personnel.
They also found the payment of 'gifts' to former students of St Ann’s did not provide an adequate response to some families.