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Steve's story

In the 2000s, Steve made a statement to police detailing the sexual abuse perpetrated on him in the 1960s by his then swimming coach, Les Barnes. The abuse started when Steve was 11 years old and continued until Steve could drive and was no longer reliant on Barnes for lifts to training.

Steve told the Commissioner that a friend suggested he make the statement for a task force set up by NSW Police to investigate child sexual abuse. The friend told Steve that Barnes’s name had come up as part of the investigation. Steve said he hadn’t previously reported the abuse because he felt ashamed. Over five days, Steve gave police details of the abuse perpetrated on him as well as the names of 30 other children he believed had also been sexually abused by Barnes at the Sydney swimming club.

Steve said Barnes would always isolate and befriend boys before abusing them. He gave them money and they were reliant on him for lifts home from training. The sexual assaults took place in Barnes’ car and in the swimming pool change rooms. Barnes sometimes paid Steve to keep watch outside the change rooms while he assaulted others. He also tried to get boys to procure others for him to abuse.

Steve didn’t tell his parents or other adults because he didn’t think they’d believe him. He thought from some comments that people knew that Barnes was abusing children. However, because Barnes was so highly regarded, nothing was done. Steve found out in later life that his brother had also been sexually assaulted by Barnes.

Several months after making his statement to the task force, Steve was told by the investigating detective that the claims couldn’t be substantiated. The detective said none of the people Steve mentioned wanted to come forward, though Steve knew from his friend that several others had made statements about Barnes. The detective asked Steve to sign an acknowledgement that the matter had been investigated and he didn’t want to take it any further. ‘You could have knocked me over with a feather’, Steve said. The detective advised Steve he could make a civil claim against Barnes.

Some years later, a story in the media raised allegations about Barnes, but the ensuing public response seemed to cast the coach as victim and those who made the allegations as interested only in money.

‘He was eulogised as an icon of Australian sport and his network reached far and wide. He was on a pedestal.’

Steve told the Commissioner that a few months after the television interview, officers from the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) approached him and asked about the task force interview in the 2000s. They wanted details of the location of the interview, who’d conducted it and what information Steve had given. Steve asked for a copy of his previous statement and other documents, but was told the files had been lost. He hadn’t kept his own copies because he was afraid his children might find them. The PIC officers told Steve to leave it with them, but he heard nothing further.

He hoped the Commission would be able to investigate Barnes and find out what happened to the task force files. Steve said, ‘I’m hoping and praying that it will give an unequivocal account of what a monster this man was’.

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