Lenny James's story

Lenny, who’s in his mid-30s, has committed a few crimes over the years. And when he looks back at the trouble he’s been in since he was a boy, he feels like he doesn’t deserve any sort of compensation for the sexual abuse he suffered.

Lenny grew up in rural Victoria and his parents separated when he was nine or 10. He stayed with his father, who had various mental health issues, even though he really wanted to live with his mum. One day, when 13-year-old Lenny was at home with two mates, his father attempted suicide. His friends’ parents banned their kids from visiting Lenny from then on.

He had always been the class clown at school and as he got older Lenny’s behaviour got more and more out of hand. He wagged school or, when he was there, fought with other kids. After a fight with a teacher in Year 9, Lenny decided he’d had enough of school and left altogether.

He committed petty offences, such as breaking windows and writing graffiti. By the time he was picked up by police for throwing eggs, he was 15 and living with his grandmother. Lenny was taken to the police station where Sergeant Allsop ordered Lenny to strip off all his clothes. He told him they needed to be forensically tested.

What happened then ‘was very ... it wasn’t good’ Lenny said.

Sergeant Allsop handcuffed Lenny to a chair in the interview room and proceeded to interrogate him. This involved beating Lenny to the ground, and groping his genitals. ‘He manhandled my private parts,’ Lenny said and ‘did funny stuff’. Sergeant Allsop stood on Lenny as he lay there, still handcuffed to the chair, and spat on him.

Finally, Lenny’s clothes were returned to him and he was released without charge. No one else had come into the interview room at any point. Before he left the police station, another officer threatened to throw him down a mine shaft. Lenny was now terrified of Allsop, but it didn’t stop him from getting into further trouble with police.

By 18, Lenny was committing more serious crimes and had an addiction to heroin. He lived on the streets but sometimes also with his father. Sergeant Allsop saw Lenny again when he was arrested for something else. This time the police called his family and his grandfather managed to get there ‘pretty quick’.

Two officers ordered Lenny to confess to extra crimes he hadn’t done, in front of his grandfather. Lenny refused. They took his grandfather out and Allsop gave Lenny ‘another bit of a beating’. They then brought his grandfather in and ‘I just told them whatever they wanted to hear’.

Lenny was first diagnosed with depression, panic disorder and paranoid psychosis while he was in a youth justice centre. He was never admitted into a mental health facility, even though he self-harms regularly.

He’s currently in jail and sees a psychiatrist every now and then. Lenny is ‘stable but still has downs’, which are helped by medication. In terms of the abuse, ‘I’ve blocked it out. Sometimes it pops out, like there’s a brick missing, but it doesn’t flood my brain’.

The cumulative effect of the various traumas of his life, including witnessing his father’s suicide attempt, make him feel like he never grew up.

‘I still feel like I’m a kid, not a coward, but a scared kid in a man’s body.’

Before he committed his last very serious crime, he felt that because he was ‘a little bit bad’ he couldn’t hang around with ‘the good people’ but because he wasn’t doing anything really bad, he couldn’t hang around the bad people either.

Lenny had never reported the sergeant. ‘I believe in not dobbing on people, even policemen.’ He is considering applying for compensation now but does feel conflicted about it.

‘I’ve been in all this trouble’, he told the Commissioner. ‘It makes me feel like I don’t deserve it.’

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