Commission told of abuse at Anglican home

Men and women who survived childhood rape and beatings in a NSW Anglican home were told to go away when they asked for help, the third hearing into child sexual abuse was told.

In October, 2013, the commission sitting in Sydney examined how the Anglican Diocese of Grafton handled complaints of extreme abuse at the North Coast Children's Home in Lismore. Up to 200 children passed through the home from 1944 to 1985.

Children were malnourished and flogged with canes, pony whips and belts. Staff, pastors and other inmates raped young children.

Tommy Campion, a 67-year-old former resident, and about 40 others came forward in 2006 to seek an apology and redress. The diocese denied liability and challenged the group's assertion that it was liable for the home.

Evidence was the diocese, which was $12 million in debt because it had built a loss-making private school, took a hard line on compensation.

The registrar, former Queensland MP and Anglican priest Pat Comben, oversaw negotiations.

Each claimant was eventually offered about $10,000 after costs. Not everyone accepted and others who came forward were told to go away.

The Primate of the Anglican Church in Australia and Archbishop of Brisbane Phillip Aspinall said he had no power to compel then bishop Keith Slater to take a different approach.

Slater resigned in May 2013.

Disciplinary processes were lax and offenders were not removed from the directory of Anglican clergy - referred to by one witness as the stud book - and could be re-employed elsewhere.

Cases were not always referred to the church's professional standards body or the police.


As with most hearings, the North Coast Children's Home one began with abuse survivors.

One man, CK, was placed in the home aged three with his six-year-old brother. His older brother protected him until the pair were separated when CK was eight, after which he was physically, sexually and psychologically abused until he left the home in 1958.

In the 1980s, CK was diagnosed with depression and attempted suicide several times.

"The ones who suicided are the lucky ones; we are the walking dead who remain", he said.

Solicitors from both sides and former and current church personnel gave evidence.

Chief among these was Pat Comben, who as registrar drove the hardline against claimants. He was in the witness box for two days.

It emerged he misled victims on the true financial state of the diocese and failed to report abusers to police.

After the hearings, Comben resigned his ministry and said the church was trying to rewrite history. Other key witnesses included the former bishop of the diocese, Keith Slater, and Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia Phillip Aspinall.

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