School head warned me off helping hostel kids
School head 'warned me off helping hostel kids'

School psychologist Nikola MacLennan was astonished when directed not to counsel students from the St Andrew's Hostel in Katanning, an inquiry into child sex abuse at the State-run hostel was told yesterday.

She said the order came from the Katanning Senior High School principal in 1988 after a distressed student came to her office.

"He was sobbing his heart out," Mrs MacLennan told the inquiry. "He wanted to ring his mum."

Soon after organising the call, the psychologist and guidance officer said she was met by high school principal Ian Murray and sent to meet the Year 8 student, his mother and the hostel's warden, Dennis John McKenna.

"He (McKenna) said words to the effect to the mum that 'we look after your child, we can make him happy here, we look after him if there are any difficulties, we go on camps, we have fun … don't worry about his emotional happiness'. Mr McKenna was most reassuring to the mum," Mrs MacLennan said.

That meeting was held about two years before McKenna was arrested and charged with sex offences against five hostel boarders.

Within 24 hours of the meeting, Mrs MacLennan was again spoken to by Mr Murray. "This conversation has remained with me," she said. "He said you don't need to have anything to do with the hostel students. It's the best run hostel in the State - Mr McKenna was a very good psychologist, a very good amateur psychologist."

McKenna, jailed in 1991 and again last year for sex crimes against six other St Andrew's boarders, had been working at the hostel since 1975.

After the principal's directive, McKenna went to Mrs MacLennan's office and reinforced his authority over hostel students.

By 1989, she had received a number of adverse performance assessments about her role in Katanning and lost her job. She said Mr Murray was central to that happening.

The West Australian

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