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Maurice John's story

Maurice vividly remembers the stigma he experienced growing up in institutional care. At high school, he and the other kids from the boys’ home where they lived were kept apart from the rest of the students. ‘We were despised. Absolutely despised’, he told the Commissioner.

‘For you to be in a home you must have done something wrong. And my only crime was I was born. That’s my only crime.’

Maurice and his siblings were initially placed in care because their mother had left the family and their father, who was looking after them on his own, needed a break. It was meant to be a stay of just a few weeks but the children were made wards of the state and remained in care. It was the mid-1960s, and Maurice was eight. He spent the next nine years in institutions.

The first seven of those years were at a boys’ home in Brisbane. He was physically, emotionally and sexually abused during that time. He was sexually assaulted by older boys, and when he reported the abuse to the superintendent’s wife, Julie Riggins, she punished him.

‘When I told her I was flogged and beaten and put in the shower room for days at a time and forgotten about. And I was beaten up by the boys outside for dobbing them in.’

He was also regularly abused by Ronald Neave, a trainee police officer who boarded at the home. One night when he was 10 he lay in bed crying because he’d got into trouble and as a result his father’s visiting rights had been withdrawn.

‘This pervert heard me stifling my sobs and played the “It’s okay, I’m here to help you” role’, Maurice recalled in a written statement.

‘He soothed me down and stopped me from crying. Then led me into his room where I was sodomised. On leaving his room I was witnessed by another boy and the next day I was called a poofter and had the crap beat out of me by some older boys. This police officer used me for sex for almost five years of my stay there.’

He reported what was happening to the superintendent and his wife: ‘Boy was that a mistake … they beat the shit out of me and made me stand on the bitumen courtyard in bare feet with no water in the hot summer sun.

Maurice also felt in some way responsible for the assaults, because he’d responded to the comfort Neave offered. ‘That’s where my blame came, because I hugged him’, he explained.

Later, at an institution for older boys, Maurice was abused again and once more felt he’d brought it on himself. He was a teenager at the time, and was groomed by a staff member with gifts of cigarettes. The abuse ended when the staff member left his job. His replacement also sexually assaulted Maurice. ‘[He] was even better at being a crappy person than the other two together. He used beer to get his way.’

Maurice told the Commissioner he knew at the time that accepting cigarettes and alcohol was ‘bad’. And that led to thoughts of ‘I did this’, he explained. ‘Once again, I felt I instigated this.’

He didn’t bother to report the abuse. He’d learned his lesson at the previous home: ‘Just cop it sweet, get on with your life, don’t even tell the other boys that’s happened’.

Maurice came to his Commission private session with his wife, Prue. They’d recently celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary. She was the first person he disclosed his story to. Early on in their relationship, ‘I thought this could be something serious, so I’d better show her the monsters in me and let her decide ... And as you can see, Prue’s a strong lady. She stayed with me.’

He told no one else until one day in the late 1990s two detectives from Queensland Police’s Taskforce Argos knocked on his door. They were investigating complaints of abuse made about Neave, by others from the boys’ home. They wanted to talk to Maurice.

‘I just went totally white. My hair stood on end and I just collapsed. It just brought all that straight up again.’

Neave was eventually arrested for multiple offences and the matter went to trial. The court process was gruelling. At first, the DPP elected to have separate trials for the different complainants. Maurice was the key witness in one of the early trials. It didn’t result in a conviction. Neave’s barrister was ‘brilliant’, Maurice said.

‘[He] absolutely stripped me away, because I couldn’t get the dates right and things like that. So I just called him a dickhead and the judge said “Any more of that we’ll put you away” – and I said “Look, just because I can’t remember the dates or the colour of the curtains in the room and stuff doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, because I can remember everything that happened to me”. He just kept stripping away and stripping away.’

Then the judge referred to Maurice as an ‘inmate’ – ‘And that really stuffed it up for me. Because we weren’t inmates. We were kids abandoned by our parents, and none of us had done anything wrong … that’s when I called him a dickhead, too.’

A change of strategy on the DPP’s part led to the case against Neave being put by multiple complainants in a single trial. This time he was convicted and jailed. Maurice believes the judiciary’s expectation of precise recall still needs to be ‘straightened out’ - ‘It’s such a long time ago, 40 odd years, you can’t remember every detail … They’re protecting monsters.’

Maurice is clear about the impact his experiences had on him.

‘Anger’s one thing. Desperation is another thing. Frustration, sadness, deprived of education, possibilities, opportunities.’ He’s found it easy to get jobs, but hard to keep them. ‘I’d go in a job, bull at a gate, enthusiasm just sparking off me all over the place. And within six to eight weeks I’d be thinking – they’re a pack of idiots, I don’t want to work here. So I’d go and shoot myself in the foot. Burning my bridges. Getting fired, can’t get a reference. So I’ve had – and I’m not proud of this – quite possibly 200 plus jobs in my life.’

Maurice received a redress payment through the Queensland Government but believes the government made a mistake in opting to give victims lump sums rather than support with housing and medical services.

‘Very wrong choice. I wonder how many people pissed that up against the wall. I went out and bought a big screen TV, I bought this brand new bed’, he said. ‘I just went crazy … And a lot of us have. I got none left. I got basically nothing to show for it.’

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