Adverse findings have been recommended against three men accused of inaction and sweeping child sex abuse allegations under the carpet while they were in positions of authority at Katanning’s St Andrew’s Hostel.
An inquiry headed by retired Supreme Court judge Peter Blaxell is investigating the extent of any cover-up of systemic child sex abuse at St Andrew’s Hostel.
Five other State-run country hostels have also come under the spotlight during the inquiry amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards children by people in authority.
Former St Andrew’s warden Dennis John McKenna has been jailed for molesting 11 boys who boarded at the facility from 1975 to 1990.
In his closing submissions today, counsel assisting the inquiry Philip Urquhart recommended to Mr Blaxell that he make adverse findings against former Katanning high school principal Ian Murray and former chairmen of St Andrew’s board Keith Stephens and Alan Parks.
He said the men failed in their responsibilities to adequately protect children placed in the hostel’s care.
Mr Urquhart recommended four adverse findings against Mr Murray, who was an avid public supporter of Dennis McKenna when he was first charged with child sex offences in 1991.
Katanning high school guidance counsellor Nikola MacLennan told the inquiry that Mr Murray informed her she should not have any dealings with St Andrew’s boarders and if any came to her she should refer them to Dennis McKenna because he was "a very good amateur psychologist".
Mr Urquhart said Mr Murray failed to take heed of complaints by student Todd Jefferis and his family about abuse he suffered at the hands of Dennis McKenna.
He said Mr Murray displayed an "overt public display of support" of Dennis McKenna when he was first charged. One student gave evidence that Mr Murray made the boarders write letters of support for Dennis McKenna.
"It was incumbent on Mr Murray to maintain at the very least a neutral position in public until such time as it had been determined by the findings of a jury ... he clearly did not," he said.
He said Mr Murray’s actions fell well short of what was expected of a principal.
Mr Urquhart said Mr Murray’s evidence that he followed up Mr Jefferis’ complaint by contacting the police about a week later to see if Mr Jefferis had spoken to them should be disregarded.
He said at best Mr Murray was mistaken about that claim and at worst he had given misleading evidence to the inquiry.
Mr Urquhart also recommended adverse findings against Mr Parks, a former board chairman, in that he failed to take any action about Dennis McKenna having inappropriate dealings with boys despite repeated warnings and allegations to the contrary.
Mr Parks conceded to the inquiry that not enough notice was given to how the hostel was being run and that at the time the board did not suspect Dennis McKenna was capable of such crimes. He said in hindsight he should have done more to investigate what Dennis McKenna was up to.
Mr Stephens was the father of two boys who boarded at St Andrew’s and also a one-time chairman.
Mr Urquhart said Mr Stephens did nothing when one of his sons told him he was being abused by Dennis McKenna and even when he found his son in bed with Dennis McKenna.
Mr Stephens’ son told the inquiry that when he confessed to his father he was told "stop telling lies and get on with it."
Mr Stephens said he could not recall that conversation, but told the inquiry that Dennis McKenna threatened to destroy him if he said anything about seeing him in bed with his son.
Mr Urquhart read out a short statement by Mr Stephens in response to the recommended adverse findings.
"At all times as a board member I tried to perform my duties to the best of my knowledge and ability. At no time during my tenure did I come to believe that any students in the hostel were in danger, including my own children," he stated.
"Well after my departure from the board I later came to learn of matters involving Dennis McKenna and I feel utterly betrayed that some of these events occurred during the period of my association with the board.
"If I could change what happened I would. I understand these events have caused very significant distress to all involved, their families and friends."
Mr Blaxell will consider Mr Urquhart’s recommendations. Mr Urquhart will continue his closing address next week.Mr Blaxell is due to submit his report by July 18.
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