Allegations of Abuse in Institutions
A Presbyterian group at the centre of sex abuse allegations against orphanage boss Wally Lake tried to delve into victims' personal lives by accessing their police records and psychiatric histories.
Presbyterian Support Services, which ran the Berhampore Children's Home where at least 14 people say Lake sexually attacked them as children, appeared to be more interested in investigating the victims, their lawyer said.
Lake, the son of a policeman, died in November aged 84 – just as police were to charge him with multiple sex offences after the victims outlined sexual abuse while child residents at the home Lake headed from 1959 till 1985.
Police executed a search warrant at Presbyterian Support to investigate records.
Lake was awarded an OBE for social services in 1986, was a justice of the peace, and senior member of the Presbyterian Church for more than 50 years.
The Privacy Commissioner's office has ordered Presbyterian Support to release tape recordings of a meeting it held with lead complainant Kathleen Batchelor 2-1/2 years ago.
It is understood the organisation taped the September 2002 meeting – but later denied her a copy – and privacy authorities have ordered in the past month the release of the tape after a formal complaint.
Presbyterian Support is now refusing to deal with the 14 victims and any other complainant who hires a lawyer or talks to media.
The Presbyterian Church says it is a separate legal entity to its sister organisation – but has confirmed Church representatives knew about the abuse claims in 2001, attended meetings with Ms Batchelor, and offered complainants "spiritual guidance".
Lawyer Gordon Paine, who acts for 13 victims, said yesterday that Presbyterian Support had tried to "strip the victims bare", asking them to sign waivers granting access to their police records and medical and psychiatric files. The complainants refused.
"Presbyterian Support wasn't interested in investigating the allegations, just investigating the claimants," Mr Paine said. The 13 victims could sue for compensation.
Presbyterian Support spokesman and former chairman Trevor Roberts said tapes of the meeting with Ms Batchelor were not handed over because they raised privacy issues for other people. "In any event, Ms Batchelor made her own tape recording," he said.
Presbyterian Support had asked for access to police and psychiatric records to help verify complainants' claims, Mr Roberts said.
After Lake's death, the issue was one of civil liability and Presbyterian Support would not make any agreements on the basis of unsupported allegations, he said.