Heath believes that if there had been ‘better systems’ in place in the early 1980s he may never have been ‘groped’ by his Sydney scout group leader during a camping trip when he was a 12-year-old boy.
‘There were victims before me, worse victims. Other scout groups obviously didn’t tell ours who this bloke was and what he was doing. He’d offended twice before coming to my scout group, they had no idea of his history with children. Their ability to communicate within their own organisation was in my mind, nil.’
Heath’s father died when Heath was nine, and he’s learnt that Mr Jones preyed on ‘fatherless’ boys.
A few weeks after the abuse Mr Thompson, a senior scout leader, took Heath aside for a private conversation.
‘Mr Thompson asked if I’d been interfered with by Jones, and I said, “Yeah”. Apparently one of the other boys had been abused and told his mother, so Thompson started pulling everyone in. When six other boys came forward, Jones resigned, but I never went back to scouts after that.’
Heath recalled Mr Thompson offering him and his mother an apology, and reminding them both about the meaning of ‘Scout’s Honour’.
In the 1990s, Heath disclosed the abuse to a police officer who was a close friend, and was advised it ‘wasn’t worth pursuing’. But more recently, Heath decided to lodge an official complaint with police after watching a television report featuring claims of sexual abuse against the former scout leader.
Mr Jones was charged and received an 18-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty.
‘It was hard to sit through that. I was shocked he pleaded guilty, but it’s good, it justified the events happened. He apologised to me from the stand, he was pulling all stops out to lessen the severity of his sentence. I waited 30 years because I was told to forget about it. Mum saw a psychologist who said to let it go and not go to the police, don’t ever talk about it ever again, so we didn’t. That’s what they did in the 80s.’
Heath understands that Mr Jones had previously served a two-year jail sentence in the early 2000s for sexually abusing a young scout.
Heath is currently considering civil action against the Scouts.
‘I’ve got to decide if I’ve got the mental strength to go through the whole thing, and I think I will. I’m not worried about the money, I just want to sue the Scouts. There’s a pattern on what Jones did that’s unacceptable, and people should have acted. My assault shouldn’t have happened.’
There was a time through his 20s when Heath felt ‘pretty angry’ with the world and he has at times suffered depression and even contemplated suicide. But having worked extensively with a psychologist over the years, he told the Commissioner, he counts himself as fortunate.
‘It hasn’t stuffed my whole life up like it has the others. Of those six other boys abused in my scout group, we’ve tried to find them, and found that one has committed suicide, that’s what really cut. My life is good. Got a great job, I’ve been with my wife since [the 1990s], I’ve got my kids, a house, I’m lucky.’
With mandatory reporting laws in place, Heath feels children are better protected these days.
‘Back in the 80s it was totally different times, I think it was opportunities, endless opportunities, and the Scouts’ priority was their reputation. Jurisdictions, over time have learnt where their failings were, and have made adjustments. In the past I didn’t want anybody to know what happened to me, but now I’m happy to put myself out there.’