Allegations of Abuse in Institutions
Wellington: Presbyterian Support’s hard-line stance on 13 people who say they were sexually abused at a Wellington children’s home is breaking down.
The agency has agreed to discuss compensation for the group, amid fears within the Presbyterian Church that the complainants have been treated with a “lack of respect and sensitivity”.
Presbyterian Support, which ran Berhampore Children’s Home where some former residents say they were abused by justice of the peace Walter Lake, has reversed its position and agreed to meet the group’s lawyer this week.
It had previously said that it was not liable for the claims, would not “write out cheques” and would not deal with any complainant who hired a lawyer or went public.
The about-face comes after a Presbyterian Church document questioned the way the complaints had been handled and raised concerns about the harm done to the church.
The document also reveals that Presbyterian Support spokesman Trevor Roberts has been sidelined after publicly accusing the complainants of being motivated by money.
More allegations were reported on TVNZ’s Sunday programme at the weekend, this time of physical abuse at the hands of Mr Lake. A former staff member told of a severe thrashing dished out to a young boy who had tried to run away.
At least 14 former residents went to police last year with claims they were sexually abused during the 1950s and ’60s by Mr Lake, who was made an OBE for social services in 1986. He died last November, aged 84, just as police were to charge him with sex offences.
Presbyterian Support — a separate entity from the church — on Sunday said it would meet the lawyer representing 13 of the 14 complainants this week. The agency was “committed to giving them full and respectful consideration”.
Lawyer Gordon Paine, who is acting for the 13, said the meeting was an important step.
“We’re going to explore all sorts of things.”
Mr Roberts told The Dominion Post he “won’t be acting as spokesman on this occasion”.
The church document criticised the agency’s handling of the claims, citing a “lack of respect and sensitivity”. “Christian agencies should be more interested in offering support and seeking the truth than in protecting their own position.”
The document blamed a “lack of constructive approach” for driving complainants to a lawyer and the media, and said Mr Roberts “failed badly” to give the kind of response expected.
The bad publicity would hurt the church, it said.
“But please be assured that the Presbyterian Church takes allegations of abuse and misconduct very seriously, has clear processes in place to handle complaints, and believes that its church communities and activities must be safe places for all people who participate.”