Tasmania process 'stymied' abuse survivor

·3-min read

More than 40 years after being abused by a serial pedophile teacher in Tasmania, Sam Leishman is still without answers.

Mr Leishman was in early high school in the 1970s when he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by Darrel George Harington, who was first jailed in 2015 for crimes committed against nine boys over decades.

Mr Leishman on Friday gave evidence at a commission of inquiry examining state government responses to child sexual abuse in public institutions.

He said no one from the department reached out after Harington's conviction to offer an apology or support.

He wrote several letters to the department, including one expressing his disappointment, and eventually secured a meeting with the deputy secretary in 2017.

"I wanted to know what complaints they had about (Harington). Who knew what? What were the circumstances around his transfer to another school?," he said.

"I thought they were reasonable things to want to know."

Mr Leishman was told he would need to make a Right to Information request for the information.

After he did, he was told he needed Harington's permission to access some of the information.

"I felt completely stymied by the process. I felt like I was up against a wall. I've been responsible for this man going to jail and then I'm going to ask him for permission to give me information," he said.

"It just didn't sit well at all. I thought 'This is a rabbit hole I'm not going to go down'."

Mr Leishman said he still doesn't feel like all the information has been put on the table.

"I know a little bit more through my legal representation about his timeline, his history," he said.

"It's been confirmed to me he probably shouldn't have been at that school to start with."

Education department secretary Tim Bullard, who has been in the role since 2018, apologised to Mr Leishman, conceding the department should have provided a more fulsome response to his letters.

"It's very difficult to ascertain from the file what actually led to the breaks in communication," Mr Bullard told the inquiry.

"The complexity ... when a victim-survivor comes forward is, of course, they would like information on themselves.

"But there's also ... a conduct of investigation file, or employee file, which relates to the personal information of another individual.

"I think there's a real conflict in these situations about how we marry all of that together."

Mr Bullard was asked whether the department would always know if staff had been acquitted in court, or were the subject of criminal proceedings.

"Absent of searching court lists and trying to reconcile what's on the public record ... with information that we hold, we don't have any transparency internal to government of those processes that are being undertaken," he said.

Mr Leishman said a teacher noticed something was going on between him and Mr Harington, approaching him and saying "You need to make it stop".

He shared his story for the first time in his 40s after becoming aware of the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

Mr Leishman said he read a victim impact statement in court with Harington present.

"I felt like the biggest person in the room. I was there standing up in front of everyone, speaking up for the child I once was," he said.

The commission was this week told of student complaints not being investigated and allegedly abusive teachers being moved schools.

"We're always on the back foot here. Everything is reactive," Mr Leishman said.

"We're continually waiting until something turns into a crisis before we respond to it, which is why we're having this commission.

"We talk about Tasmania being a small jurisdiction... and we don't have the resources and how difficult that all is.

"Why can't we look at Tasmania as being a small isolated state and that is actually our advantage?

"There is no reason why we can't do things better here than the rest of the country."

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