Hedley's story

For three years, from when he started at a Sydney boarding school in Year 7, Hedley was sexually abused by up to four boarding masters.

The main perpetrator was Glen Fowler, who plied him with alcohol, cigarettes, and videos of heterosexual and homosexual pornography, bestiality and paedophile encounters while assuring the small boy from the country that it was all normal behaviour.

Most of the molestation occurred in Fowler’s room, to which Hedley’s sleeping cubicle was nearest.

Documents before the Royal Commission indicate Hedley felt sure he was photographed and filmed, and exposed to other paedophiles due to an incident on a family holiday involving a paedophile he did not know.

At one point he kept a knife, sharpened sticks and a baseball under his mattress. He was constantly in trouble and regularly caned. The headmaster said he was a disgrace to the uniform who would amount to nothing. Hedley’s mother told him how he would cry at length when he was dropped off at school.

After media exposure of paedophile activity at his school nearly 10 years ago, Hedley told his wife and a friend about the abuse. Soon others including his parents, friends and police were also told. A mental breakdown followed: a descent into depression, flashbacks of Fowler’s room, suicidal thoughts, hypervigilance, avoiding confrontation, panic attacks, social withdrawal and anxious procrastination.

Diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his childhood sexual abuse, his life unravelled as he abused alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. He was forced to sell his business and home and almost lost his marriage before he sought help.

Now in his 40s, Hedley attended a private session with his wife, Samantha, his solicitor, Mary, and his friend and former lawyer, Simon, ahead of preparations to appear under a pseudonym at a public hearing of the Royal Commission.

He told how the statement he gave police in 2012 – because he and Samantha thought it was ‘the right thing to do’ – led to a disastrous encounter with the criminal justice system. Criminal and civil proceedings went ahead simultaneously and Hedley felt that in both he was treated worse than an ‘animal’.

Hedley now regrets following the District Court judge’s suggestion that the trial be conducted without a jury.

Pitted against a grossly underprepared and under-resourced prosecutor, who asked him to find witnesses during the trial, was an eminent senior defence barrister. Just days after his second discharge from ‘a mental ward’, Hedley admits he was an unimpressive witness intimidated by the judge and defence counsel who were reminiscent of the ‘men in power’ who represented his abusers.

He was made to feel like a ‘gold digger’ and a ‘liar’. Erroneous conclusions by the defence psychiatrist – in a report provided strictly for the purpose of the civil proceedings – were accepted by the judge who found Hedley had falsely constructed his memories of abuse.

When the judge acquitted Fowler – previously jailed for child sexual abuse – and then apologised for ‘wasting his [Fowler’s] time’, Hedley felt like ‘I had been dragged through the hedge backwards’.

In what Hedley’s lawyers believe amounted almost to improper conduct, all medical reports from the ongoing civil proceedings were ‘in some mysterious way’ made available to Fowler’s defence team in the criminal trial.

Hedley, Samantha, Mary and Simon also pointed to the law firm representing the school’s insurer unreasonably stringing out the ongoing civil case. Instances included the firm ignoring letters and calling mediation meetings then cancelling them at short notice. On one day, the firm issued 14 subpoenas.

The one subpoena requested by Hedley for his school records was deemed ‘too wide’ and resulted in a contested hearing and another year’s delay, Mary said. The tactics used, she told the Royal Commission, should be a law school ethics question.

Simon, an experienced practitioner involved in hundreds of civil cases, including child sexual abuse, said, ‘This case is what not to do,’ when a law firm representing school interests becomes involved. In Hedley’s case, none of the usual goodwill responses to the process had been undertaken, which normally include joint reports, agreed mediation and settlement amount discussions.

‘Sometimes I’ve been lost for words by the things we’ve had to put up with from the other side’, Simon said of attempts to settle the case.

‘In my view, it’s a secondary exacerbation of the abuse. In fact, on one view … it might have impacted in a more significant sense than what the abuse did, from a psychologist’s perspective.’

Many psychiatric and psychological sessions, and two hospitalisations in psychiatric wards contributed to Hedley’s continued recovery. But, even though it was never about the money or compensation, he would be ‘loath’ to advise anyone to seek catharsis via the criminal justice system.

‘Every report [requested by lawyers] means you were re-experiencing it’, he said.

A year into the legal process, Hedley had amassed reports from four forensic psychiatrists, a neuropsychologist, a forensic accountant and numerous psychologists. In addition, vocational reports, notes and reports from his hospitalisations, tax returns from his first employment, returned subpoenas from past employers and all the family financial records were requested.

Nearly all the legal developments that his lawyers were obliged to report to Hedley were ‘bad’, which Simon believes caused more psychological damage.

‘So much [damage] has happened due to this process’, Hedley said. ‘Due to what had happened to me is one thing [but] three to four years of civil litigation ... If I were an animal you would shoot it because it’s as worthless as they think I am. I’ve got no identity … to them [the law firm], I’m a number and I’m a file and a case.’

The firm’s hope ‘that I would run out of puff’ and that it could ‘just grind him down’, will not prevail, Hedley said, still bitter that five offers of compromise were rejected by the defendants. This included offers to accept compensation without any admission of liability which were ‘ignored’ without acknowledgement.

‘Three years later, I haven’t stopped. I have not worn down and I’ll keep going.’

Mary suggested that civil actions for child sexual abuse include court-ordered mediation, as do actions under the Family Provision Act. A separate list should be set aside for these cases, just like in the Dust Diseases Tribunal.

As well, the outcome of a criminal trial with its stronger onus of proof and different allegations, should not be allowed to have such a bearing on a related civil trial.

In Hedley’s case, evidence from the criminal proceedings ‘has unfortunately been used in the civil proceedings by legal representatives for [the school] as a big stick’, Simon said.

Not only was Hedley asked to pay $50,000 in lieu of defence costs in the criminal trial, he was told after the acquittal, ‘We can’t even think about settling your case …’ which remains ongoing.

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