Imogen has clear feelings about people who sexually abuse children, and what should happen to them when they are caught. Just a couple of years ago, at the age of 10, she was sexually abused by her school principal, Edward Forsyth. She isn’t short of ideas for punishing the ‘boldy headed prick’, and wrote some of these down.
‘Pedo deserve to feel pain more than the devil! I wish he crashes and wakes up with every bone broken and no-one comes to help him. How come the police do NOTHING! I see on the news people hit one person and there STRAIGHT to JAIL.
‘but it’s okay if someone sexually assaults someone is IT, because the person that got hit is fine and has recovered but the person that got assaulted is having bad dreams about it every night can't even go to the shops to get food to feed themself's and frightened to leave the house because the pedo is still out THERE, yet the police DONT CARE because the person is in so much trauma they want to die. But guess WHO gets punished the assaulted person not the PEDO.’
Not long after Imogen was abused, two investigators from NSW’s Department of Education Employee Performance and Conduct (EPAC) team came to speak with her about Forsyth.
They hadn’t asked Imogen’s parents, Kylie and Michael, if they could visit her at home, or informed them that they were investigating an incident of sexual abuse. At this time, Imogen hadn’t disclosed the abuse to her family either.
Kylie wasn’t in, but Michael remembers the investigators asking “Do you mind if we just have a quick chat to make sure everything's above board there?” The pair appeared trustworthy, so Michael agreed they could speak with Imogen. ‘I personally thought they were, you know, for her best interests at the time.’
The female investigator chatted with Imogen alone for around 15 minutes, while her colleague waited with Michael. Although departmental regulations require that minors be provided with a support person, he wasn’t asked to sit in on the interview. Neither was he told that it would be recorded.
After the interview, the investigators informed Michael ‘you’ve got nothing to worry about there’.
Michael and Kylie still aren’t aware of how the department came to know or suspect what had happened to Imogen. He told the Royal Commission, ‘the only people who would have known about that was Imogen and Forsyth, and Imogen certainly didn't tell, because she didn't tell us about what happened’. They can only guess that other people saw something, or had suspicions, and reported this.
Imogen changed after the EPAC visit, and stopped attending school regularly. Michael recalls, ‘behaviour-wise, and school-wise, yeah, there was a change in behaviour, but I don't think I put two and two together’.
Imogen had told him and Kylie ‘that she was starting to be bullied at that school’. They now realise she said this in an attempt to get away from Forsyth. This strategy worked, as ‘we moved her from that school to a school that was outside the town’.
They still did not know about the abuse, however, until she disclosed it to them herself some months later. Immediately they took the matter to police, and Forsyth went to trial. Imogen and Kylie gave evidence via closed circuit TV, and Michael also gave evidence.
Imogen’s parents were not allowed to be present during her evidence, which included cross-examination. This went on for five hours, with only a 20 minute break. Michael said they had raised concerns about this process, as Imogen was only 11 years old.
‘Well, we queried them about that, why she was in there for so long. And they said it was up to the magistrate's discretion and he deemed that it was okay, she could handle it.’
The approximate six month delay in Imogen telling her parents about the abuse was determined by the magistrate to be significant, and to have some bearing on her credibility. One of her friends, who was a witness to the abuse, had given a detailed statement to police, but the prosecutor did not go through this with the child in court.
The magistrate also considered information from what he referred to as an ‘early investigation’, when making his decision to dismiss the case. It was not until Kylie and Michael spoke with the police officer assisting them that they realised this ‘early investigation’ was actually the EPAC interview.
They also found out that a transcript of the interview existed, and accessed this. Kylie says that during the interview, Imogen ‘couldn't spell her surname. She didn't know what street she lived in. She couldn't tell them her date of birth. She didn't know how old she was’.
She believes Imogen had been very distressed by being interviewed by a woman she didn’t know, without any support (in breach of the department’s own regulations), and this is why she was unable to recall basic information during it.
The magistrate’s dismissal of the case was hard for the family. Michael said that Imogen ‘thinks it's her fault, that she did something wrong that he isn't convicted for it’.
Although suppression orders were in place, Kylie and Imogen’s names were leaked on social media. They were subjected to brutal online trolling, which they reported. These defamatory posts were not removed for over a week, and only after the family’s lawyer intervened.
Forsyth had also directly warned Kylie there would be consequences for reporting. ‘His threats to me were, “I have friends in high places. No-one will believe you ... I'll ruin your life.” He's done every single one of them’. She and Michael believe the Department of Education have not looked into this matter further, despite the Director of Public Prosecutions advising them they could.
Forsyth remains employed by the department, in a different role. Kylie and Michael are aware of other complaints made against Forsyth, both in relation to his treatment of adult women, and children.
Michael gave the example of one case, ‘where a parent came up and marched herself into his office and was saying, like, yelling at him, “You're a paedophile for what you did to my daughter”’, and also of ‘kids making complaints about him chasing them into the toilets there at school’.
Some of Imogen’s writing was read out by her support person when she met with the Commissioner in person, and she also provided drawings. She said that ‘I don’t really want to say the things he did to me again, and you know why, because when I did tell, no-one believed me ...
‘I hate him so much now, and I hate all his friends. I hate school, I hate the smell, I hate it when teachers look at me, and I’m sure everyone knows’.
She also wrote about the court process, including giving evidence. ‘What I would like to say is that kids are not made to talk to adults without a friend or adult with them.
‘And kids aren’t made to sit in that small, hot room all day, without going to the toilet or recess, or fruit breaks, because you lose concentration and in the end, I just agreed with the rude man on the television [CCTV], because I couldn’t take it anymore. And lastly, kids are not liars. I never lied.’
Imogen’s psychologist suggested she try dancing, ‘because I could express myself’, and this has helped her cope with these experiences. ‘When I dance, I feel free, I forget about everything else that’s bad, and for that time I can focus on the steps and music, and I can go inside myself and forget anything ever happened.’