Lynette Isabel's story

Lynette came to the Royal Commission to speak on behalf of her son, Mark, who attended a Catholic college in regional New South Wales in the 1990s. He was a day student at first, but boarded for his last two years.

Mark began acting up when Lynette divorced his father who had physically abused him as a small child. He still bears the scars. When Lynette began dating a long-time friend, ‘I suppose Mark thought, “Here’s an interloper coming along. If I misbehave, then perhaps he’ll go away”. But he didn’t go away. We’ve been married now [over 20 years]’.

Mark’s behaviour deteriorated even more when he arrived at the college, and Lynette had no idea why. He was often in trouble with the police, and there were at least three occasions when he attempted to harm himself at the school.

On the third occasion he was admitted to a private Catholic hospital and this was the first time Lynette was notified. When she went to the hospital he was ‘trembling, crying’ but didn’t say anything. Lynette just assumed that the pressure of the Higher School Certificate (HSC) was too much for him.

When Lynette took him back to school, the headmaster told her that Mark was disturbed and should be expelled. Because he was about to sit his HSC Lynette wanted him to stay, and made an arrangement that if Mark saw a child psychiatrist ‘and he gave him the okay’, he would not be expelled.

‘I think I remember now, they gave him conditions, that if he kept to these conditions at school, they’d keep him there, but I think it fell apart within a month.’

Lynette took Mark to the psychiatrist who said, ‘Yeah, he is disturbed. We’ll put him on medication’. Lynette didn’t want that but the school insisted. She told the Commissioner that the anti-psychotic medication didn’t work.

Mark’s uncontrollable behaviour continued after school, and a motor vehicle accident in the early 2000s left him with a permanent disability.

Because of his anger issues Mark has spent years in and out of courtrooms, with his mother asking, ‘Why do you do this?’ Mark always answered, ‘I don’t know’. ‘The only thing he ever, ever said to me in [the 1990s] was, “Remember when I was at [the school]? I didn’t want to be there” … I said, “Why didn’t you tell me?” He said, “Didn’t know how to”.’

One day after a hypnotherapy session in the early 2010s, Mark came home and told his mother that he’d been abused at school by Father Collins.

Sexual abuse at the school had been alleged in the early 1990s. ‘I know the day it come out … Mark [came] home and I said, “Did you hear what’s going on at [the school]” … “Yes” … “Anything happen” … “No”. He walked away. Never said anything more.’

Lynette recalled that a letter was sent to the parents at the time, telling them to disregard the allegations.

She told the Commissioner, ‘The fellow that brought it all out, he was at the school probably 15 years before Mark … He used to run away … tell his parents. They’d flog him and send him back to the school, because the priest was the be-all and the end-all. He never did anything wrong’.

Because the survivor who reported Collins had been a drug addict and in jail, it took a long time for anyone to believe him. Other survivors have since come forward. Collins was recently convicted of the sexual abuse of two girls and sentenced to jail.

The police were waiting for that trial to conclude before charging him with the sexual abuse of a number of boys, including Mark. Lynette believes there are more than 200 charges against the priest.

It took Mark a long time to decide to go to the police but Lynette encouraged him, saying, ‘Look how many lives this man has destroyed’. He is worried about testifying in court because he doesn’t want to have to face his abuser. Mark’s lawyer is trying to arrange for him to testify via video link. Mark is also embarrassed about other people knowing what happened.

Lynette was upset when she sat in the police station for eight hours while Mark made his statement. ‘I think it was a terrible shock, one of guilt that I sent him to that school … Sitting in a police station … listening to things that I should never have to hear.’ What she heard explained why Mark kept missing the school bus, and why she would often find him down at the train station at night.

‘Sitting in the police station, listening, he said, “I’d see Collins coming and I’d hide. I’d go and hide so he couldn’t find me”. That’s when it was really a shock that I think it’s really impacted on him, frightened him.’

Now, 30 years down the track, Lynette knows, ‘why we’ve been sitting in courtrooms … going, “Why do you do this stuff?”’

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