The Royal Commission’s Report of Case Study 19 - The response by the State of New South Wales to child sexual abuse at Bethcar Children’s Home in Brewarrina New South Wales, was released today.
The report follows a public hearing held in October 2014 which examined the responses of the State to complaints made and litigation instituted by former residents of Bethcar Children’s Home, Brewarrina, New South Wales.
The Bethcar Children’s Home was founded in Brewarrina in 1969. It was funded by the State and run by a married couple, Burt and Edith Gordon between 1974 and 1984. It closed in 1989.
Six former residents gave evidence to the Royal Commission of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Mr Gordon and others, including his son-in-law Mr Colin Gibson. In May 2004 Mr Gibson was convicted of a number of offences and sentenced to 18 years in prison.
In 2008 two separate civil proceedings were commenced by former Bethcar residents against the State of New South Wales alleging that the State was liable for the abuse.
The Commissioners found that the Crown Solicitor’s Office (CSO), in representing the State, had in place deficient processes for allocating matters involving child sex abuse, and the Bethcar matters should only have been allocated to solicitors who had been given specific training in child sexual abuse issues.
The Commissioners heard that both the CSO and the Department of Family and Community Services (FaCS) breached the New South Wales Model Litigant Policy for Civil Litigation in multiple ways, including by asking the plaintiffs to prove matters which were already within the State’s knowledge (including Mr Gibson’s conviction in 2004), by taking procedural points, and by failing to offer to put in place remedies for the plaintiffs, such as offering to pay for any costs incurred by filing separate statements of claim.
An apology was delivered and the civil litigation was ultimately settled by mediation in December 2013. The Commissioners found that the state breached the model litigant policy by failing to pursue mediation earlier and by delaying an apology to the former residents.
The Commissioners accepted evidence that the NSW police, in relation to complaints in 1980, had failed to comply with procedures by not taking the residents to see a doctor, not promptly interviewing them and then failing to conduct separate interviews with them, allowing one of the alleged perpetrators to be present at the interviews and returning the residents to Bethcar to live with the alleged perpetrators.
The Commissioners also found that in 1980, 1983 and 1984, FaCS had information suggesting that the children were at risk in Bethcar.
The Commissioners found that the failures by the NSW police seriously undermined the effective investigation of the children’s complaints, while FaCS failed to adequately support the children who made the complaints.
This case study raised the systemic issues of civil litigation and redress. The Royal Commission’s final report on redress and civil litigation is available on our website.
Read the full report.