One of Australia's longest serving prisoners dies in Hunter hospital

ABUSE VICTIM: The family of Bobby Veen noticed a change in him as her grew up but were unaware he was being sexually abused. He went on to be convicted twice of manslaughter after stabbing two men. Picture: ABC NEWS
ABUSE VICTIM: The family of Bobby Veen noticed a change in him as her grew up but were unaware he was being sexually abused. He went on to be convicted twice of manslaughter after stabbing two men. Picture: ABC NEWS

A MAN adopted by a Victorian family as a young Aboriginal boy has died after serving one of the longest jail terms in NSW.

Robert Veen, known by most people as Bobby, spent the final 18 months of his life in the Hunter. He died of a heart attack in a Newcastle hospital on Saturday, about 18 months after being released following two jail terms.

He had served more than 40 years for two stabbing deaths in 1975 and 1983.

Bobby was taken in by Ben and Betty Veen when aged two-and-a-half. 

The couple had wanted to give him an education and a chance in life, which his sister Bernice Brooks said had unravelled after he was targeted by a peadophile at a Border high school.

I think we all know with these children when they are abused, what happens to them. They never forget. Sadly, we had absolutely no idea what was going on

Betty Veen, speaking of her adopted son Bobby

Betty Veen said she had no absolutely no regrets about taking Bobby in.

Mrs Veen and her late husband had been told by authorities the young boy had been severely neglected by his family. 

HAPPIER TIMES: The young family growing up

HAPPIER TIMES: The young family growing up

Talk of the Stolen Generation didn’t surface until many years later.

“I would say I am a better person for having had Rob,” Mrs Veen said.

“I have no regrets, just sadness for him and the way his life turned out, and what he had to go through.

“He could have had a wonderful life.”

The couple had seen a newspaper advertisement in the 1950s – possibly in The Border Mail – seeking foster parents. 

“They consider him to be part of the Stolen Generation, but they told us at the time he was so shoddily neglected that he was removed,” Mrs Veen said. 

“We wanted to bring them up, have them educated and they in turn could help their own race – that was the idea.”

Bobby had been happy and outgoing as a young boy and had never complained.

Mrs Veen said he was popular at school and was a talented footballer who played for Lavington. 

He had attended St Anne’s Catholic Primary School in Albury and then the Christian Brothers when he was about 10, then transferred to Wodonga Technical College. 

His foster parents began to notice a change as he got older but couldn’t figure out what was causing it.

NO REGRETS: Bobby Veen's mother, Betty, looking at an old photo of the family on Tuesday. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

NO REGRETS: Bobby Veen's mother, Betty, looking at an old photo of the family on Tuesday. Picture: JAMES WILTSHIRE

Court documents from 1988 note a school teacher had “introduced him to homosexual activity” during a “disturbed” and “sorry” childhood.

His family link the abuse at the Wodonga school, followed by further sexual and physical abuse at the Kinchella and Royalston boys' homes after he was removed from his parents, to his wayward nature and crimes.

According to court documents from 2000, Bobby told psychologists he had been abused from age 11 to 17. 

He told them the final sexual assault occurred on the day of his discharge back to his parents by the boarding home superintendent. 

“With the manslaughter charges, you can understand what happened to him when he was young and what brought it on,” his mother, now aged 89, said from her West Albury home on Tuesday.

“Really, his life was ruined by adults here in this area.

“I think we all know with these children when they are abused, what happens to them.

“They never forget.

“Sadly, we had absolutely no idea what was going on.”

Mr Veen, who died in 2011 aged 96, had visited his foster son in prison several times but couldn’t return due to the emotion involved.

SWIM: Bobby as a boy.

SWIM: Bobby as a boy.

“It was heartbreaking for him,” Mrs Veen said.

“It was hard to get there but my two daughters took it in turns to visit him every week. 

“One was with him every week.” 

The family also adopted Bobby’s biological sister, Heather, who has passed away. 

Bobby had spent the final 18 months of his life living with oldest his sister Bernice in the NSW Hunter Region. 

Despite being eligible for parole in November 2003, the authorities had the power to keep him behind bars for the rest of his life. 

He was only released in mid-2015 after being diagnosed with terminal cancer, weighing just 55 kilograms and in need of a walking frame. 

His sister can't make excuses for the two killings, but can see some positives in his story. 

“It's a tragic case but however tragic it is, you can't go around killing people,” Mrs Brooks said. 

“In a way it is an uplifting story – all those years in jail didn't destroy him.”

She said her brother had wanted to help change young Aboriginal men in the prison system but his offences prevented it.

Bobby had been working as a gay prostitute around Sydney when both deaths occurred. 

Both victims were his clients. 

The first man, Terry Ward, was stabbed 50 times on February 16, 1975. 

On October 27, 1983, Bobby killed Paul Edmund Hoson by repeatedly stabbing him with a bread knife. 

Mrs Brooks said Bobby had believed both men were paedophiles. 

“He just lost the plot,” she said. 

Despite the acts of violence, Mrs Brooks said there had been no need for the authorities to keep him locked up for as long as they did. 

“They decided he would have to stay in jail forever, and he pretty much did,” she said. 

“Every year – possibly twice a year – they knocked him back (from parole). 

“He didn’t do anything wrong (in jail).” 

The release from prison had helped with his cancer. 

Bobby had been in palliative care, but his sister said he had recovered and the cancer had gone into remission. 

He died following several heart attacks. 

Bobby's mother said news of his death had been incredibly sad. 

“We loved him,” Mrs Veen said. 

A funeral for the 62-year-old will be held at Tanilba Bay on Friday. 

Too see ABC’s Lateline report on Bobby Veen, go to http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2015/s4405918.htm

First appeared on the Border Mail