‘I woke up because I could not breathe and I felt somebody kissing me on the mouth. I opened my eyes to see the [ambulance] driver recoiling away from me and at this instant I felt that he had his hand on my penis. I said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm just checking to make sure you’re okay". I was in a state of heavy sedation from the morphine and I passed out again, but not before I noticed he had a large black camera around his neck. I was naked, my pants were down to my lower legs and, in a state of heavy sedation, I blacked out.’
This was part of a police statement Vince made 40 years after these events took place.
Vince grew up in a large family in regional Australia. His father died when he was young, in the 1960s, and his mother raised the family without support, always doing two jobs.
When Vince was 10 years old he was in hospital. An ambulance driver, Richard Tennant, started chatting with Vince, telling him he’d love to have a son like him. Four years later, Vince was in hospital again and met the same ambulance driver. ‘I thought, “Oh, this is so lovely” because … I missed my dad.’ However, Vince can remember Tennant putting his hands under the bed sheets both times.
The third and last incident of abuse was when Tennant was transporting Vince from the local hospital to a larger one. That was when Vince woke up with Tennant on top of him.
‘And the disturbing thing for me, that camera haunted me all my life, thinking there’s pictures of me in some bastard’s garage or shed … that he’s having a bloody good time over.’
As Vince said in his police report, ‘That same year … about three months later I had played a game of footy … and I was around the grounds and I saw the same ambulance officer standing next to an ambulance. I avoided him without him seeing me. I think that day I went and got pissed’.
Vince has drunk heavily ever since. His behaviour changed immediately after the abuse. At 16 he was suicidal. He left school in Year 9 and got a trade. He later married and had children. But drug and alcohol abuse have marked his life. He has experienced flashbacks, PTSD and other mental health issues. The memory of the camera has haunted him.
Vince first went to counselling in the late 2000s because he was having homicidal thoughts and was drinking heavily. ‘My spirit was just about gone. I had nothing left.’ He disclosed the abuse but his counsellor dismissed it as something that was probably just in his head. Vince also disclosed to an ex-colleague who also dismissed it.
In more recent years he has found a psychiatrist he can trust. Even so, it took him three years to disclose to her. After experiencing an acute onset of PTSD, Vince decided to report to the police. He made a statement in the 2010s but was told there was nothing that could be done.
That following year Vince had to deal with some major financial and family issues. He didn’t have the strength to follow up with police at that time. He was at a very low ebb one day, when he received a call from one of his health care professionals, who said ‘How are you going?’ This was a timely and helpful call. Vince was also, at that time, working on his garden which also helped him.
‘From that period I, sort of, started to pick up and once I got through that Christmas and over January, I was just so bloody well determined that the cops had to give me an account of what they’d done.’
Vince contacted the police, demanding that ‘no stone be left unturned’. They looked at the matter again. After some months and more follow-up from Vince, he made a positive identification of Tennant, based on an old photo the police showed him. They mentioned that Tennant ‘had a history’ but that he was deceased and there was nothing more they could do. ‘I’ve been haunted for so long … I wanted to go into a foetal position and disappear into a hole.’
Vince is left with many questions. He doesn’t know what ‘he had a history’ meant. He also wonders if the suicides of other local boys from his time might have been connected to Tennant. Overall, his experience with the police was a frustrating one.
‘I know the system is overworked … but the communication with the follow-up was very poor. In a business sense it had no continuity … It was passed on to other people … so, again, the person you’re dealing with, they’ve been moved and I understand that but ... at that stage, you know, you’re in a vulnerable position … You could go over the edge.’
Vince never disclosed the abuse to his mother. Although she has passed away in recent years, she was and is a resilience factor in Vince’s life. ‘She’s such a strong person … I couldn’t embarrass her. I couldn’t let her down. My mum was a champion.’