McKenna inquiry

UPDATE 11.40am: Premier Colin Barnett has announced an inquiry into the operation of a State-run hostel where children were sexually abused in the 1970s and 1980s.

Mr Barnett travelled to Katanning this morning, the small Great Southern town where it is alleged the molestation complaints were ignored.

Former Supreme Court judge Peter Blaxell will head the inquiry and be given special powers similar to a Royal Commission.

Justice Blaxell will start work on the inquiry immediately using people seconded from government agencies.

The Premier said he expected Justice Blaxell to report his findings by May 2012.

The inquiry will look into whether any government agencies or government employees failed to act on allegations of child abuse taking place at the hostel for more than a decade.

The West Australian reported earlier this month the accounts of former public servants who said they raised concerns about the hostel, but were ignored.

"A number of current and former public officials and members of the public have recently made public comments that their concerns about the conduct of a public officer at the St Andrew's Hostel in Katanning were ignored and not dealt with appropriately," Mr Barnett said.

"Serious questions have been raised about the response to complaints of abuse of children at the hostel. Those questions must be answered.

"It is important that we get to the truth of what happened."

The inquiry will report findings about why the sexual abuse was able to continue for an extended period.

It will also make recommendations about any disciplinary action that should be taken against any public official as a consequence of the findings, and any changes that should be made to policies, procedures or operations of relevant government agencies as a consequence of the findings.

Any issues relating to criminal behaviour that arise in the course of the inquiry will be referred to WA Police.

The inquiry will also refer any allegations of corruption to the Corruption and Crime Commission.

A 24-hour hotline - 1800 227 792 - will handle questions about the inquiry from members of the public.

"Depending on their need, callers will be referred to a police investigator if they wish to report an incident requiring investigation; a 24-hour telephone counselling service staffed by experts from the Department of Child Protection's Crisis Care Service; or a member of the team working on the special inquiry," The Premier's office announced.

The Department of Child Protection is also boosting the support services available in Katanning with an additional social worker available from today to help former students and family members.

Former government employees went public earlier with claims that the warden of the St Andrew’s hostel in Katanning sexually abused boarders for more than a decade, despite concerns being raised with police and government officials.

Maggie Dawkins, who worked as a group leader in 1985 for a government department that sent children to board at St Andrew's, made the claims and called for a Royal Commission into the 15-year management of St Andrew's Hostel by serial paedophile Dennis John McKenna.

McKenna was jailed in 1991 and again last month for a string sex offences against 11 victims in the 1970s and 1980s.

Evidence about the sexual abuse of children at the hostel was reported to senior public servants, a town councillor and police five years before any action was taken. The then Department of Employment and Training, according to former employees, was also made aware of issues at the hostel at the time.

Mrs Dawkins, wife of former Federal treasurer John Dawkins, said she was ordered to leave Katanning in 1985 by her department bosses after raising concerns about McKenna.

She said she believed that ignoring her calls for an investigation into McKenna resulted in more innocent children being abused until he was finally arrested in 1990.

Of the 11 victims, all former hostel boarders from Katanning Senior High School whose evidence resulted in McKenna's convictions, at least one was being repeatedly raped throughout 1985. He later committed suicide.

The West Australian

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