Ash’s mother and father were very young when they married and had children. The relationship eventually broke down and Ash went to live with his grandparents for a while before returning to his father’s house. When that didn’t work out, Ash reunited at the age of 14 with his mother who was living with a new partner in a New South Wales country town.
Things went well with the new arrangement and although the family wasn’t religious, Ash was encouraged by his mother to socialise by going to the local Church of England Boys’ Society (CEBS) group. Two nights a week boys would meet and do activities under the leadership of Andrew Benton.
At some point in Ash’s first year with the group in the mid-1970s, a couple of boys became involved in an argument and Benton intervened to stop them fighting. Ash witnessed the altercation and a few nights later, Benton arrived at his house and asked his mother’s permission to take him to help resolve the conflict. After his mother agreed, Ash got in the car with Benton who said they first had to pick up another boy outside town.
‘As we got to the outskirts of town where it turns into a hundred K zone I got a bit wary’, Ash said. ‘Cause I thought, I don’t know anybody that lives this far out of town. We drove for probably 10 minutes and we pulled off into the state forest – I don’t even know the name of the forest. I said, “What are we doing here?” He says, “We’ve just got to go up in here and grab this young bloke”. Yeah okay. The next thing he’s pulled the car up to a stop, had a look around, it was dark, then proceeded to pull his old fella out and said to me, “I thought you might be interested in this”. I just said, “No thank you”.’
Ash told the Commissioner that after he said he wasn’t interested, Benton told him ‘You’re just going to have to wait till I’ve finished’ and proceeded to masturbate until he ejaculated. Afterwards, Benton leant over, kissed Ash on the cheek and asked him ‘not to say a thing’.
‘Being a small country town it doesn’t take long for news to get around and I didn’t want to be known as the instigator or it’s all your own fault or whatever, so I just kept hush hush. I still went to CEBS after that, but I didn’t look at him in the same way that I’d respected him before that.’
Ash said he didn’t tell anyone about what Benton had done and was prepared to remain forever silent, but in 2010 his friend Jim revealed that he’d been abused by Benton in a manner Ash said was worse than his own experience. After the conversation, Ash ‘wanted to sweep it back under the carpet and get on with life’, but he also wanted to support Jim who’d made a report to New South Wales Police, so Ash did the same. Although this was difficult, Ash said he found police officers, and one detective in particular, very helpful.
As police investigations continued, others came forward with allegations of abuse against Benton, who was an active member of several sporting and community groups. ‘Once they worked out someone’s got him - someone’s got him, he’s going to court - they’ve come forward’, Ash said.
After his disclosure to Jim, Ash told his wife and mother about the abuse. To his mother it was ‘no surprise at all’, because she’d heard rumours about Benton. The pending court case and Ash’s scheduled private session with the Royal Commission had caused tension with his wife, Ash said, and they’d separated briefly but were now back together.
At the time of Ash speaking with the Commission, police investigations were continuing with several charges having already been laid against Benton. Ash was also working with a lawyer to make a civil claim against the Anglican Church, which he thought bore some responsibility for Benton’s actions.
‘He wasn’t supervised at all. He was allowed to run free-range … I believe that one person can’t run a organisation like that by themselves. There needs to be a second party, an adult. They don’t have to be high up, but respected by the community and trusted by the community. And I’m talking all parties that run the organisations, so that this doesn’t happen again.’