‘My solicitors have been absolute arseholes.’
After what Ian went through, he doesn’t recommend that survivors take civil action. The treatment from his solicitors ‘has probably been worse than the abuse. It was terrible’.
Ian went to high school in Sydney’s south-west in the 1960s. One of his teachers, Hugh Walsh, would make up pretexts to be with Ian alone. Walsh sexually abused him for two years from when he was about 13. The abuse included penetration. It occurred at the school gym, in Walsh’s office, and even at Walsh’s mother’s house when she was away. He told Ian no one would believe him if he spoke about the abuse. Meanwhile Walsh groomed Ian’s mother. ‘She thought he was the nicest guy.’
Ian’s academic performance declined steeply during this time. After coming top in maths in his first year at high school, he only passed his Intermediate qualification because Walsh tampered with his grades. The abuse stopped when Ian left school.
‘Someone told my mother it [something with Walsh] had been happening and she was at me day after day after day, asking “Did it happen?” and I kept saying “No, no, no”. And this went on, whether it was for weeks and weeks, I’m not quite sure … Eventually I did admit to it. And that’s when all hell broke loose … I was 15 … My parents sort of blamed me.’
They banned Ian from having male friends. A close friend was boarding with them. ‘I came home one night and he wasn’t there. They’d planned with him to move out and just do it all on the sly, so when I came home he was gone. I just lost it. I couldn’t control myself. I was crying and whatever.’,
Ian’s parents rang the doctor who came and took Ian to a psychiatric ward in the local hospital. At the age of 15, Ian underwent a series of ECT treatments for depression. ‘That obviously had a significant … effect on my life and probably has done ever since. Most of my life since then I’ve seen psychiatrists and I’ve been on drugs on and off … for anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia.’
His parents did report the abuse to the headmaster. They brought an Anglican minister with them, but the headmaster said Ian was lying. They also rang the police but were discouraged when they were asked, ‘Do you really want to put your son through a criminal proceeding?’
Ian left school early, got a job and started a career. His mental health issues have impacted severely on his ability to work and travel. He was unable to qualify as a professional in his field, and travelling alone on business trips became impossible.
Ian contacted the NSW Department of Education about the abuse in 2001, and contacted the police the following year. He was informed that Walsh was deceased, so no criminal action could be taken.
Ian started to explore the option of compensation.
He recently made further contact with the Department of Education. The department didn’t dispute the claim, but the extent to which it had affected Ian was the issue. Ian spoke with Greg Newson at the department, who informed him that the department would provide Ian with a solicitor and referred him to a law firm.
Ian engaged this law firm and gave them information about his circumstances. Ian later discovered, by chance, that ‘his’ solicitors were acting for the department, not him. He was angry that Newson, who he thought was genuinely trying to help him, had misled him.
Ian contacted the knowmore legal service and was referred to a lawyer. This engagement also ended early. Ian became dissatisfied with this lawyer after he told Ian that he had read his paperwork – but he hadn’t even been provided with that paperwork yet.
Ian was then referred to another legal firm. He has a number of complaints about how he was treated by these lawyers and the legal process in general.
Despite being aware of his chronic anxiety and OCD, these lawyers didn’t keep him informed about the progress of his claim. It took many months longer than he had originally been told.
His mental health needs seemed to be ignored after a settlement conference, when he was left with nowhere to go for five hours in Sydney before his return flight. This caused him great distress and panic.
His lawyer’s costs doubled and Ian wasn’t informed of that. In fact, Ian was told that the costs were ‘on track’ with their original estimate.
The department made Ian undergo a forensic psychiatric assessment. It concluded that he had not suffered any economic loss due to the sexual abuse. Ian was extremely upset by this as he knows this is not the case.
The lawyers for the department delayed paying the psychiatric assessor for his report. It was only released – eight weeks later – after Ian paid for it himself. He was reimbursed later but felt the delay was a tactic used intentionally by the Department to wear him down and make him give up on his claim.
Ian’s lawyers engaged a forensic accountant and incurred costs in doing so, despite them being aware that his claim for economic loss was not going to be successful. This meant they didn’t need a forensic accountant.
Just days before coming to the Commission, Ian settled his claim for an amount he feels was insufficient. He received a verbal apology from the general counsel for the Department of Education. His legal fees took out a large chunk. He was also required to repay Medicare $30,000.
Since the settlement his stress levels have gone up. He’s back on medication to manage it.
After a lifetime of suffering, Ian feels ripped off. Including by his own lawyers.