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PM - Vic Police Force faces sex abuse allegations
[This is the print version of story http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2004/s1148948.htm]


PM - Wednesday, 7 July , 2004  18:15:00

Reporter: Ben Knight

DAVID HARDAKER: Just when it didn't need it, there's been more criticism today of the Victorian Police force and the way it's handled some serious investigations, but this time it's not about the drug squad, the underworld, or police corruption.

Instead, it's the Sexual Crimes Squad that's under fire after an investigation by the Victorian Ombudsman.

His report, which is yet to be made public, has recommended that several child sexual abuse cases be re-opened, and that two officers show cause why they should not be removed.

Today, police were the first to speak publicly about the report - promising to follow all the report's recommendations.

But the psychologist whose complaint led to the investigation says that's not enough - and that there are sexual offenders walking free because of the squad's mishandling of their cases.

Ben Knight reports.

BEN KNIGHT: Three years ago, Melbourne psychologist Reina Michaelson requested a meeting with the state's new police commissioner, Christine Nixon.

She wanted to talk about child sexual abuse; in particular a number of cases she believed had not only been handled badly but possibly corruptly as well.

Christine Nixon obviously took her concern seriously because she referred Reina Michaelson's complaint to the State Ombudsman. Now, after an investigation running for more than two years, the Ombudsman's report is in, and it's highly critical of the Force's sexual crime squad and two officers in particular.

The report's called for four child sex abuse cases to be reopened, for an internal investigation into the officers' conduct as well as an independent review of the way the squad itself operates.

Reina Michaelson says it's a vindication.

REINA MICHAELSON: Oh it's incredibly damming, as it should be.

BEN KNIGHT: Reina Michaelson's complaint covered four separate investigations between 1995 and 1999, and which are believed to involve schools in country Victoria and a child care centre near Melbourne. She says all of the cases were mishandled.

That includes police not passing on vital information from witnesses and warning other members of the squad when complaints had been made against them. But Reina Michaelson says her most serious concern was the way experienced members of the squad treated the victim's during investigations.

REINA MICHALESON: In one case that's referred to in the Ombudsman's report, an officer with extensive experience was interviewing an 11-year-old victim of sexual abuse by a 63-year-old offender. The officer in question is quoted, in his interview with he Ombudsman, as blaming the 11-year-old girl believing that she was the instigator and I think it's ironic that we have a Governor General who was forced to resign after making similar comments and yet here we have an elite officer, in an elite squad with extensive experience and training, making exactly the same comments.

BEN KNIGHT: And she says this report does not close the book on the problem.

REINA MICHAELSON: There are offenders who are in the community, who have offended and who have not been held accountable for their crime. There is at least one teacher who is a known offender who is still teaching.

BEN KNIGHT: But is that because of the way that this case you're talking about was handled by the sexual crimes squad?

REINA MICHAELSON: Yes. The Ombudsman's report concluded that because of the police mishandling of these investigations those offenders have walked.

BEN KNIGHT: The report has not yet been made public, nor has it been handed to Parliament, but today Victoria Police, who've clearly learnt a lot about media management this year, held a press conference to discuss the report no journalist had yet seen.

The Assistant Commissioner for Crime, Simon Overland, delivered the mea culpa.

SIMON OVERLAND: I think what this does show is that we are prepared to take on board criticisms. We're prepared to have them examined, and where they're found to be with substance we're prepared to take on board the consequences of that and to look to rectify the way we deal with these matters. So if other people out there have concerns, they should feel confident that they can report them, that we'll take them on board and we will treat them seriously.

BEN KNIGHT: Reina Michaelson believes that's exactly what will happen.

REINA MICHAELSON: I'm absolutely convinced that there are other cases. We are working on other cases ourselves that deal with child sexual abuse matters and alleged mishandling, at best, corruption at worst.

DAVID HARDAKER: Dr Reina Michaelson, the Executive Director of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program.


 Ben Knight with that report.


The Melbourne Age

Police 'failed' on child sex abuse cases

July 8th, 2004
By Gary Hughes

Victoria Police will reopen four child sex abuse investigations and overhaul its sexual crimes squad after a damning Victorian Ombudsman inquiry identified serious shortcomings in the way cases had been handled.

Two senior members of the squad, who are among the force's most experienced sexual crimes investigators, face disciplinary action over failing to adequately investigate a number of cases and will be asked to explain why they should not be transferred.

The inquiry also found the pair may have lied under oath to Ombudsman investigators and accused one of unprofessional and rude conduct.

The confidential 37-page report, seen by The Age, also found:

The Age revealed in April that the Ombudsman had spent two years investigating allegations of police mishandling of child abuse cases. The Ombudsman is also believed to be still investigating a further case uncovered by The Age involving an alleged pedophile ring and the claimed disappearance of police records.

Assistant Commissioner for crime, Simon Overland, said other cases would be reviewed if victims came forward with legitimate concerns about the way investigations had been handled.

Operations of the sexual crimes squad would be independently reviewed by an experienced police officer brought from interstate.

While admitting the findings in the report were disappointing, he emphasised there had been no evidence of police corruption or criminal misconduct.

"These allegations relate to administrative and procedural failings. There (are) no findings of corruption or criminal misconduct," Mr Overland said.

"I will be asking two members of the squad to justify to me why they should continue to work in this area. I'm disappointed that criticism has been made."

But the child psychologist and victims' advocate who triggered the Ombudsman's inquiry after making complaints to Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon said the report's findings were the tip of the iceberg and added weight to calls for an independent investigation into child sexual abuse.

"The only option now is a royal commission or a judicial inquiry," said Dr Reina Michaelson, the director of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program and Victorian head of the victims' support group Bravehearts.

The four cases to be reopened are the sexual abuse of toddlers at a Mornington child-care centre in 1992, the alleged abuse of schoolchildren in a central Victorian town by two men in 1999 and the alleged abuse by the same teacher at two secondary colleges in 1995 and 1999.

Senior assistant ombudsman Bob Seamer said the report would not be made public through tabling in Parliament because it could identify the victims of child sexual abuse.

The Melbourne Age

Inquiry finds fault with sex crime squad

July 8th, 2004

Assistant Commissioner (crime) Simon Overland promised that further cases could be reviewed.
Picture:Ken Irwin

A review of the handling of child sexual abuse has raised questions about the ability of some officers assigned to these crimes, writes Gary Hughes.

The attitudes of police towards child sexual abuse victims and the willingness to prejudge their credibility were among a range of disturbing criticisms of Victoria Police sexual crimes officers contained in an Ombudsman's report yesterday.

One experienced detective with Victoria Police's sexual crimes squad told Ombudsman's office investigators that a 12-year-old girl was to blame for instigating alleged sexual abuse by a 63-year-old man.

The senior detective, who has been found to have inadequately investigated the alleged abuse of the girl and other children in a country town, also told investigators that such a situation was "not unusual". Another policeman in the town described the 12-year-old girl as a "little slut", despite admitting it was likely that the man had abused her.

The 37-page report, which followed a two-year investigation into four cases, found that evidence to Ombudsman's investigators of one detective "clearly indicates he had no concerns about the welfare" of alleged victims.

The report found that children in the town remained at risk following the failure of the sexual crimes squad to adequately investigate allegations in 1999 that two men were molesting schoolchildren. It said that the Ombudsman's investigators found that children in the town were still visiting the home of an alleged offender and had referred the matter to police and the Department of Human Services.

The report paints a bleak picture of the way past child sexual abuse complaints have been approached by some of Victoria Police's supposedly most experienced sexual crimes investigators. The investigation began after child psychologist and sexual abuse victim advocate Dr Reina Michaelson went to Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon to complain about the way a number of cases had been handled.

I will be asking two members of the squad to justify why they should continue to work in this area.- Simon Overland
Dr Michaelson, who runs sexual abuse awareness programs in schools was later joined in her complaint by the head of the Queensland-based Bravehearts advocacy group, Hetty Johnston, and Gail McHardy, the president of Parents Victoria.

The Ombudsman's investigators heard from 36 civilian and 28 police witnesses during the investigation, which looked at the handling of sexual abuse allegations in the country town, the investigation of child abuse at a Mornington child care centre in 1992 and the investigations into allegations against a secondary college teacher at two schools.

No charges were laid in any of the cases.

The findings, including 19 recommendations, yesterday prompted Victoria Police to reopen the cases, launch a disciplinary inquiry and announce a review of the sexual crimes squad.

Assistant Commissioner for crime, Simon Overland, said other cases would be reviewed if victims came forward with legitimate concerns.

"I will be asking two members of the squad to justify to me why they should continue to work in this area. I'm disappointed that criticism has been made," Mr Overland said.

Among the most disturbing findings of the inquiry were:

The Ombudsman had "serious concerns as to the truthfulness" of evidence provided under oath to his investigators by two of the state's most senior sexual crimes investigators.

A senior member of the sexual crimes squad displayed "unprofessional conduct" during the Ombudsman's investigation, behaving rudely and speaking over the top of investigators. The report said the officer's behaviour and attitude "raises doubts about his continuing suitability to his current position".

Crime Stoppers improperly passed on an allegation of "covering up" against a senior member of the sexual crimes squad to the squad itself, rather than the ethical standards department. A range of senior officers, including two inspectors, failed to inform the department that the allegations had been made.

One investigation centring on an allegation about a Melbourne commercial television executive was limited to a detective ringing a family member.

The Ombudsman's investigation found there was no evidence of any direct police involvement in pedophilia, as had been alleged in the original complaint about the Mornington child-care centre investigation.

But the report was critical of the handling of the initial investigation, which led to a sergeant closing the case simply on the basis of a denial by the alleged perpetrator.

Recommendations included that the failure of two senior detectives to adequately investigate sexual abuse allegations be referred for possible disciplinary action and that police command examine their suitability to remain members of the sexual crimes squad.


The Melbourne Age

Sex victims would talk, say groups
By Gary Hughes
July 9, 2004

Gail McHardy, left, Reina Michaelson and Hetty Johnston at the news conference yesterday.
Picture:John Woudstra

Sex abuse victims are prepared to testify to a royal commission about Victorian police involvement in organised pedophilia and child pornography, child abuse groups said yesterday.

Victims also alleged that at least one former senior politician had been involved in a pedophile ring.

But the advocates said the victims were too frightened to provide evidence to police and would trust only a royal commission.

The heads of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program, Bravehearts and Parents Victoria also challenged Premier Steve Bracks to table in Parliament a damning report by the Ombudsman on police mishandling of child sex abuse cases so the public could see its full findings.

"The public has a right to know what is in this report. The public should know," said Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston.

Police rejected the need for a royal commission, promising any allegations involving officers would be fully investigated.

"If they want an investigation with prosecutions, they have to deal with the Victoria Police," said Assistant Commissioner for Crime Simon Overland.

"I don't care who the perpetrator is. I don't care whether it's a police officer or whether it's a member of the public or whether it's someone in a high-profile position. If the allegation is made we will take it on board and we will investigate it."

But Mr Overland conceded that the findings of the Ombudsman's report, which detailed how police had failed to adequately investigate four previous cases of child sex abuse, had damaged trust between the force and sexual assault victims.

"We appreciate that there are issues of trust," he said.

The child sex abuse campaigners made their call for a royal commission into both police corruption and child sex abuse yesterday after The Age exclusively revealed details of the Ombudsman's report. It said two of the state's most senior sexual assault investigators may have lied under oath during the inquiry and another police officer had described a 12-year-old female victim as a "little slut".

One detective blamed the same schoolgirl for instigating the alleged sexual assault on her by a 63-year-old man, describing such a situation as "not unusual".

Police have reopened the four cases examined by the Ombudsman. Two senior members of the sexual crimes squad are facing disciplinary charges and possible transfer.

But the Ombudsman's office said it would not release the report publicly because it named alleged offenders and could identify victims.

The director of the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program, Dr Reina Michaelson, said she had dealt with more than half a dozen victims abused by organised pedophile rings as far back as the 1970s. She said they reported seeing significant police corruption and protection of pedophiles.

"I'm working with victims whose experience included police presence, police actually involved in the sexual offences that were committed against them," Dr Michaelson said.

Gail McHardy, president of Parents Victoria, which represents the parents of children at state schools, said she was disturbed at the Ombudsman's finding that allegations of sexual misconduct by a teacher had not been adequately investigated.

She said the teacher was still working at a Melbourne secondary college and should be suspended immediately while the case was reinvestigated by police.

"Parents need to know that when they send their sons and daughters to school, they are safe," Ms McHardy said.

Mr Overland said he and Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon would meet Dr Michaelson in the next few days to discuss her concerns.

He said there was already a complex criminal investigation running into further allegations of organised pedophilia made by Dr Michaelson, but these did not involve police.


Melbourne Herald Sun

Police and ex-MPs accused of child sex
8th July 2004

A HIGHLY organised pedophile ring involving police and former politicians had been operating in Victoria since the 1970s, anti-child abuse groups claimed today.

Dr Reina Michaelson of The Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program and Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston today said they had been told by child sex abuse victims that former Victorian elected politicians and police members were involved in child pornography and prostitution.
Dr Michaelson said she was working with child sex abuse victims who said they had witnessed significant police corruption and protection of pedophilia rings.

"I'm working with victims whose experience included police presence, police actually involved in the sexual offences that were committed against them," Dr Michaelson said.

The allegations come in response to a damning report released by Victoria's Ombudsman George Brouwer yesterday into Victoria Police's botched handling of four cases of child sex abuse.

Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Simon Overland said yesterday the four cases would be reopened and two long-standing members of the force's sexual crimes squad would be investigated over their role in the cases.

The report came after Dr Michaelson provided police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon with a dossier of child sex abuse cases in Victoria in 2001.

But Ms Michaelson and Ms Johnston today called for the confidential Ombudsman's report to be made public and for a royal commission into child sexual abuse and corruption.

"When problems within Victoria Police are shown to have extended into the investigation of serious sex crimes against children, as has been revealed by the Ombudsman's investigation, it is time for the Victorian government to act," Dr Michaelson said.

"The Victorian community deserves to have 100 per cent confidence in their police force, and children especially need and deserve to know that if they report sexual abuse to the police their complaints will be investigated without fear or favour."

Ms Johnston today challenged Victorian Premier Steve Bracks to table the document in parliament after the ombudsman announced it would be kept confidential.

"I am incredibly disappointed that this is not going to be a public document," she said.

"I challenge your Premier to do what (Premier) Peter Beattie did in Queensland when he tabled the Anglican Church report which was the final death knell I suppose for the governor-general, to table this report.

"To have the guts and the courage to let the public know what's going on inside its police force."

Ms Johnston said she had also met with numerous child sex abuse victims who have: "independently pointed to certain individuals, very high profile individuals and what we believe we are looking at here is a serious network of pedophiles operating in Victoria".

She said those individuals included "former elected officials".

Ms Johnston said police had asked to speak to these victims but "we won't do that because we don't trust Victoria Police as it stands, and I think this report vindicates the decision not to take these young people to a police force they have no confidence in.

"I'm suggesting that we should have an investigation that looks into potential corruption of Victoria police officers in the child sexual abuse squad in the same way we are doing it in the drug squad."

Ms Michaelson said highly organised pedophile rings have been operating since the 1970s.

"The network hasn't stopped, it has just gotten more powerful," she said.

The Ombudsman's report made a number of key findings in his report including:

* One investigating police officer referred to a child-victim, under the age of 12, as a little slut.

* Two experienced detectives from the Sexual Crimes Squad failed to ensure that allegations of sexual and repeated misconduct by a Victoria school teacher, were properly investigated.



Call for royal commission into paedophile claims

July 8th, 2004.

Child abuse prevention campaigners claim a paedophile ring involving police and former politicians has been operating in Victoria since 1970.

Dr Reina Michaelson from the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program, claims victims have provided evidence that police have covered up, participated in and gained financially from child pornography and prostitution.

Dr Michaelson says the victims fear for their lives and do not trust police, but would give evidence to a royal commission.

"The children involved in being used as child prostitutes and in child pornography ranged in age from two years of age until teenagers," he said.

"There's been intimidation of our witnesses recently."

Parents Victoria has joined the group in calling for a Royal Commission to investigate the claims.

Victorian Police Commissioner of Crime Simon Overland says police need more information on the allegations.

"If someone makes an allegation we need to know where has that information come from," he said.

"If you're not the victim or the source yourself - who's told you, when have they told you, and that's the sort of detail we need to get to."

And Commissioner Overland says the allegations are unsubstantiated and a royal commission would not result in prosecutions.

"Trust is an issue but as I say, if they want prosecutions and investigations, they have to deal with Victoria Police," he said.

The Melbourne Age

Ignoring a plea for help

July 10th, 2004


Children complained but the police didn't act, leaving a pedophile to prey on a town's children. By Gary Hughes.

"There is this guy in (name of town) and he rapes girls and he had tried to do it to my best friend but I haven't been there (to his house) and I'm never going there."

That note, printed in a childish scrawl and handed to child-abuse counsellors running a school workshop in December 1999, triggered a sequence of disturbing events that would eventually reveal how Victoria Police failed the children of a small Victorian town.

It would also expose practices and attitudes within the ranks of some of Victoria's most senior sexual abuse investigators that this week led police to call in an officer from interstate to review the operations of its sexual crimes squad and leave two experienced detectives facing a disciplinary inquiry and possible transfer.

And it would show how bungling and poor police work left an alleged serial pedophile free to continue preying on children in the town.

The alarm bell first rung in 1999 by that child's note would not be properly responded to until investigators from the Ombudsman's office visited the town four years later in their attempt to piece together what went wrong. They were startled to find children still regularly visiting the alleged pedophile's house and alerted police and the Department of Human Services.

"It is of serious concern to me that the children remained at risk as a result of the failure of the sexual crimes squad officers to adequately investigate the allegations . . . appropriately follow up matters and respond appropriately to DHS," the Ombudsman said in his damning report released this week and seen by The Age.

In fact, the litany of police failures in the small town, which cannot be named because it could identify victims, began before December 1999.

Nine months earlier the regional community policing squad had been called in to investigate concerns about another man in the town believed to be molesting children. Victims were interviewed, but when "inconsistencies" were found in their evidence a senior sergeant and an inspector deemed there was little likelihood of a successful prosecution and the case was shelved.

"It is clear that despite the non-authorisation of the brief of evidence . . . there was evidence that the young persons involved may have been at risk of serious sexual abuse and exploitation," the Ombudsman would later find.

Concerned that children remained at risk, the local school's principal and student welfare co-ordinator called in the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program to run classroom workshops. As part of the workshops, children were encourage to anonymously write down any concerns they had. The message about girls being raped was just the start.

Notes made by one of the counsellors immediately after and seen by The Age record how three girls asked to speak privately to workers.

The girls told how one elderly man lured children with cigarettes and alcohol to what was described as "sessions". "He would sit her on his lap and reach around and touch her private parts," one of the girls recounted. "Heaps of girls in the town went there."

The worker's notes record: "The three girls talked of girls being raped there. We asked what they meant by being raped. They said 'forced to have sex'."

The director of the abuse prevention program, Dr Reina Michaelson, contacted the sexual crimes squad in Melbourne. The detectives arranged to meet her the next day in the town to talk to the children.

When the three male detectives eventually arrived, they were several hours late. The Ombudsman would later establish that they first visited the police who had carried out and shelved an investigation nine months earlier. By the time they reached the school they had, it seems, already reached conclusions about the latest allegations.

The interviews with the children, according to the Ombudsman, were cursory to say the least, lasting a mere 15 to 20 minutes. Investigators would later find that notes taken by the detectives "provide only a brief summary and fail to provide any details of the questions asked . . . or any precise detail of what the young person said in response". The accounts made by the detectives were also contradictory. In comparison, the notes taken by Michaelson's assistant at the interviews were described as more comprehensive.

But according to the Ombudsman's report, even the "sketchy" notes taken by detectives showed that a victim known only as Child 1 "provided police with sufficient information and detail to indicate that (name of alleged offender) had specifically sexually abused her friend in her presence by touching her on the breasts and genitals and that such abuse had been going on for 12 months".

The 12-year-old girl also told detectives that the alleged elderly offender "tried to kiss me, feel me as well, tried to get you drunk, showed us his dick . . . wanted to have sex". This was enough to show that this girl also "was herself the victim of the sexual conduct".

But the police were not impressed.

The attitude and approach of the male detectives (the Ombudsman would later say a female officer should have been on the team) worried both the child witnesses and those sitting in on the interviews, including the experienced welfare co-ordinator. She described it as designed "to stop a child from talking" and showing that police thought Child 1 was "being a bad person".

Child 1 would tell Ombudsman's investigators that she felt she was being blamed for what had happened and that the detectives would "emphasise parts of the question and make out to me I was in the wrong or why I was there . . . like getting a lecture kind of thing".

The senior detective in the team told the other adults at the interview that he doubted the girl's evidence, despite having not spoken with other children who could support her evidence. "This appears to reinforce the view that police had prejudged this witness," the Ombudsman said.

Indeed it did.

The senior detective, when interviewed by Ombudsman's investigators earlier this year, made it clear he thought the girl had it coming and should carry the blame for any abuse she suffered at the hands of the man, who is in his 60s.

"My view was that if anything was going on it was at the hands of . . . the instigator, which was the child," the detective said. "She was standing over or was probably standing over (the alleged offender) for money, cigarettes and alcohol and the allegations that she had made were unable to be proven and unable to be substantiated."

When the Ombudsman's investigators quizzed the detective about how pedophiles groomed child victims and coerced them into abusive relationships, the detective "demonstrated very little, if any, insight into this process". And when it was suggested that his belief a 12-year-old girl could "stand over" a much older man indicated a considerable power shift, he "stated that this was not an unusual situation".

When the detectives finished their interviews with the children, they retired to the town's pub where the met the local policeman. His attitude, as uncovered by Ombudsman's investigators, was even more disturbing.

"He expressed the view to my investigators that if Child 1 had been at (the alleged offender's) house and he asked her to do him . . . sexual favours, she would willingly do it to get money or cigarettes, although she would say in her statement that she was forced to do it," the Ombudsman's report said.

"During his interview with my investigators he referred to Child 1 as 'a little slut'."

Not surprisingly, the sexual crimes squad investigation was closed on the grounds that "no criminal offences were disclosed".

But the bungling did not stop there.

The senior detective advised the school principal and welfare co-ordinator to contact DHS and report their concerns, which they did. But DHS later said it did not pursue the matter because the sexual crimes squad and local police told them a full investigation had been carried out and the children were safe.

And this despite the fact that the day after interviewing the victims the detectives called at the alleged offender's house and saw two children, including the 12-year-old girl, climbing over the back fence and running off.

And so the children in the country town remained at risk for another four years, at least.

The senior detective in charge of the investigation is one of two officers now facing a disciplinary inquiry. The Ombudsman also found that the two may have lied under oath during his inquiry and the pair will have to justify to the assistant commissioner for crime, Simon Overland, why they should not be transferred.

Victoria Police will reopen the case, along with three others in which the Ombudsman found allegations of child sexual abuse had not been adequately investigated.

This week Overland admitted that the Ombudsman's report, which won't be made public, was a further blow that the already-battered reputation of the Victoria Police could have done without.

He also conceded that it had damaged the trust between sexual assault victims and police that is essential if offenders are to be brought before the courts.

"Trust is an issue," he said.


13 July 2004

Police reopen case

Fresh probe into sex abuse claims



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