THE Scout movement is facing serious questions over its handling of child abuse allegations after former Scout leaders in the Hunter alleged officials in the movement turned a blind eye to the activities of a paedophile who went on to work with vulnerable children in an Aboriginal foster care agency.
Steven ''Skip'' Larkins, the former chief executive of the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services agency, was convicted this year of fraud, possessing child pornography and abusing two boy Scouts in the 1990s.
He was exposed as a paedophile only after being caught last year with child pornography at the Newcastle-based agency where he had been given parental responsibility for 19 vulnerable Aboriginal children, oversaw $5 million in taxpayer funding and acted as an adviser to the NSW government on child protection issues.
The pornography investigation uncovered Scout abuse complaints from the 1990s to which Larkins this year pleaded guilty. But a Herald investigation has found in the early to mid-1990s scouting authorities were alerted to Larkins's suspected paedophile behaviour.
Despite the reports, the scouting officials took years to ''officially suspend him'', and in the interim allowed him to attend scouting events involving children and undertake administrative duties.
Larkins went on to become a figure in NSW Aboriginal child protection work, where he had parental responsibility for vulnerable children.
In the US, the Boy Scouts of America are in damage control after the Los Angeles Times revealed a pattern of inaction and cover-up involving thousands of complaints of child abuse from the 1970s to the 1990s.
The Larkins case raises questions about whether there was a similar lack of action in Australia. This week, former Stockton Scout leaders Raylene and Armand Hoitink told how they tried to blow the whistle on Larkins in the mid-1990s but were fobbed off by then senior officials.
The couple said they and a close relative had raised a number of allegations with senior scouting officials including that Larkins was:
Caught cavorting naked in the shower with boys at a Scout camp;
Had a Scout lie on his chest while he and the boy were alone in a tent put up in a scout hall;
Approached children at a swimming pool offering them lollies and trying to coerce them back to his house.
''He's the reason we are no longer in Scouts,'' Mr Hoitink said last week. Mrs Hoitink said her late brother Toby, who was a Scout leader, had complained after finding a boy Scout lying on Larkins's chest in the mid-1990s.
She said Toby had reported this to the Regional Commissioner, John Grothen, and the District Commissioner, Bill Metcalf, who did not stop Larkins from having access to Scouts. Grothen has since passed away. Mr Metcalf has vigorously rejected any claims he did not act, saying he repeatedly tried to get Larkins kicked out of the scouts.
Mrs Hoitink said she believed another leader knew of the shower incident and had been told of the tent incident.
Mr Hoitink said that in 1997 he rang police after being tipped off about the pool incident. But he said he was admonished by Metcalf for not contacting Scouts first and letting them handle it.
Mr Hoitink said after this incident, Scouts promised to remove Larkins from any contact with children. But, he said, in late 1997 or early 1998 he and his wife saw Larkins with a group of Scouts on a trip to Seaworld - something that Scouts justified because Larkins had ''been promised a trip''.
In 1998, police investigated an allegation Larkins abused a boy Scout but the case was dropped after the victim declined to go to court, sources told the Herald. Larkins this year pleaded guilty to this offence.
Scouts Australia NSW has refused to go into detail about such sexual abuse allegations but did confirm it was aware of a ''concern'' raised with Scouts in 1998.
A Scouts spokeswoman said the organisation contacted NSW Police about the matter and continued to liaise with police through the years up to the recent court case. However, Scouts have confirmed they officially suspended Larkins only in 2000 after another complainant came forward alleging abuse - an incident that was not prosecuted at the time but which Larkins was convicted of.
A Scouts Australia NSW spokeswoman said last week Larkins had been ''removed'' from ''face-to-face with youth members'' from April 1997 following a complaint.
But she confirmed Larkins had continued to do administration tasks for the region and ''may have attended supervised regional events'' up until his suspension in 2000.
She said Larkins had not been active in Scouts for more than a decade. Scouts takes responsibility for the safety and care of young people extremely seriously, she said.
NSW Police would encourage anyone with information about child sex offenders to contact police.