Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in the Newcastle Anglican diocese day 16 | live blog


3.00pm: Chairman of the Royal Commission Justice Peter McClellan has formally adjourned case study 42 – the Newcastle Anglican diocese – describing it as the longest of all of the case studies undertaken by the commission.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Justice Peter McClellan.

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse chairman Justice Peter McClellan.

He said it was significant not only for the Anglican church but as an examination of how institutions may “fail or succeed in responding to allegations of child sexual abuse”.

Justice McClellan said the commission was under immense pressure in relation to all of its work as it attempted to finish within its allotted time.

Earlier, Bishop Greg Thompson finished giving his evidence in chief and being cross examined by a small number of counsel including Healy for former Newcastle bishop Roger Herft.

Thompson stood by his assertion that Herft had told him he had made a “false” statement to the commission about the Peter Rushton pornography matter.

Healy had told Thompson that Herft could not have possibly mentioned child pornography in relation to Rushton in a 2016 conversation with Thompson because he, Herft, knew about a 1998 letter from solicitors Sparke Helmore that stated there was no child pornography, only adult pornography.

Thompson said he could see what Healy was getting at but he wrote the file note straight after the conversation, and that was what Herft had said.

Thompson also stood by his written statement and his evidence to the commission on solicitor Keith Allen. saying he came away from meetings with Allen believing the solicitor was saying that he knew about aspects of the church’s various child sex abuse cases that were not in the official files.

He said this disturbed him and he “came away feeling this serious, criminal, unhealthy practice’.

In the final stanza of evidence, the bishop was questioned by his own counsel, Lachlan Gyles, about the difficulties he faced in disclosing his own history of sexual abuse.

“I came to see what it might feel like to be a child sexual abuse survivor who came forward to the diocese and that if they could to it to the bishop, they could do it to anyone,” the bishop said in relation to the hostile reaction he had faced from within his own diocese.

He agreed with Gyles that he had become “a public face of survivors of child sexual abuse” and that people were repeatedly coming up to him and sharing their stories of abuse.

“Cometh the hour, cometh the man,” was how Gyles described the bishop, saying he was someone who believed in “social justice rather than the pomp and ceremony” of the church.

Gyles said the bishop’s support to survivors in stormy waters had given a voice to people who could not previously speak or be heard and that this, in combination with his pastoral care, meant it could be fairly said there were many who wre pleased that he came forward when he did.

There was a sustained round of applause from the gallery when Thompson was excused from his evidence.

Counsel for Bishop Greg Thompson, Lachlan Gyles

Counsel for Bishop Greg Thompson, Lachlan Gyles

2.40pm: Bishop Thompson has quoted the 4th century theologian Augustine of Hippo (St Augustine), whose Latin phrase “incurvatus in se" is usually translated as “life turned in on itself” to describe what he says was the sinful nature of the informal networks of power within the Newcastle Anglican diocese.

Summing up the situation, Bishop Thompson described the “unhealthy culture” in the diocese as “a protection racket” that made it hard to change things while these people were in the church.

Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson soon after the lunch break on the final day of the Royal Commission. Thompson is giving his evidence standing up, because of a back problem.

Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson soon after the lunch break on the final day of the Royal Commission. Thompson is giving his evidence standing up, because of a back problem.

“The house is burning,” Bishop Thompson said of the church in response to its problems with child sexual abuse.

He said the church needed to bring survivors of child sexual abuse into the church and to ensure their stories were heard.

“Until we are close to these stories we don’t understand the lived trauma of child sexual abuse,” the bishop said.

2.05pm: Bishop Thompson has resumed his evidence and is being asked about solicitor Keith Allen, who the bishop suspended from all positions in the diocese under the church’s “responsible persons” ordinances.

Thompson said that Allen had not accepted his decision to suspend him, although he had not “afforded himself of the opportunity we have afforded him.

He is now being asked about a phone call that Archbishop Roger Herft had made, asking him to catch up. Asked why he had made a file note about an approach from Herft, Thompson said he knew the Royal Commission was coming up and he wanted to ensure that record keeping was straight. He said there was also a question mark in his mind because protocols meant a former bishop was supposed to formally notify him of his intention to visit his old diocese, and this had not happened.

Herft had already been in Newcastle for a couple of days when Thompson found out. He wrote the file note of the meeting the same day as the meeting took place.

Thompson wrote that the bishops were “worried” about the commission’s interest in St John’s college at Morpeth and its number of offenders.

Thompson said that Herft had admitted not dealing with the Allan Kitchingham matter properly.

Thompson said that Herft had felt “not wanted” at Newcastle.

Herft had not offered any criticism of Graeme Lawrence and did not express surprise that the then defrocked Lawrence was still meeting people in the Newcastle Club and lobbying against the sale of the bishop’s home, BishopCourt.

This information had come from business manager John Cleary, who had seen Lawrence in the club.

Thompson is now being asked about Reverend Chris Bird at St Stephen’s Adamstown, where Lawrence and his partner, Gregory Goyette, were worshipping.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp

Lawrence has denied preaching at St John’s but Thompson said he had been given a photograph of Lawrence “reading” to the congregation.

He said Reverend Bird did not consider the matter important and that a lot of worse things were going on.

But he said a safe ministry management agreement had been put into place and that Reverend Bird had tried very hard to administer it.

He said the photo showed Lawrence at a lectern or pulpit in the church in 2013.

Talking about redress to survivors of assault, he said there would be advantages to an independent redress scheme with a national approach. It would remove the perception of a conflict of interest whereby that organisation would try to minimise the number of claims again.

Thompson described professional standards director Michael Elliot as “professional, timely and persistent”.

He said assistant bishop Peter Stuart was highly supportive, knew what he needed as bishop and “seeks to implement it”.

 2.00pm: In two hours time, if not before, the 42nd case study of the Royal Commission will have finished. Commissioner Peter McClellan was adamant yesterday it would finish on time and he has been demanding of counsel today insisting they get to the point in their questions. Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp was still taking Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson through his evidence when we broke for lunch almost an hour ago.

Given the criticism that accompanied Thompson when he initially revealed he has been sexually importuned by the late bishop Ian Shevill, it will be interesting to see what his opponents make of today’s revelations, that he was sexually assaulted twice as a teenager by adult boarders staying at his family home, and that another senior cleric, then canon Eric Barker, had also tried to force himself on Thompson when he was about 19 years old.

1.00pm: THE commission has broken for lunch after an extremely emotional session with Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson.

Although Thompson has previously alleged a sexual assault at the hands of then bishop Ian Shevill, today in the witness box he has listed three other incidents.

He said that as a teenager in Muswellbrook, he said he had been sexually assaulted by two two adult boarders his family had taken in.

He said that as a young man interested in joining the church, he was invited to dinner with then canon Eric Barker, who got him drunk at a dinner and began “kissing and fondling him” after the other dinner guests had left.

After going to a movie with Barker on another night, Barker again tried to force himself on Thompson, saying that if he wanted to get into the ministry he would have to have a relationship with him.

He took that to mean a sexual relationship.

“I would be looked after and made a priest if I had a relationship with him,” Bishop Thompson said.

He said he had held the church in high regard and he believed his upbringing – presumably a reference to the boarders – made him “vulnerable to these events”.

He said he was a potential target for grooming and believed that this was what Barker was preying upon.

Thompson had to pause at various stages during this opening section, in which counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, had asked him to read from paragraphs 7 to 20 from the statement he had lodged with the Royal Commission.

His personal explanation over, the questioning then moved to matters involving the Newcastle diocese.

The commission has heard much about the hostility that Thompson has endured from the so-called Cathedral crowd in the Newcastle diocese, especially once it became clear that he was not minded to reverse the defrockings of Graeme Lawrence and others who his predecessor Brian Farran, had disciplined as a result of the CKH matter.

12.20pm: Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson has now revealed further incidents of sexual abuse as a young man, including two assaults on him by male boarders in his home at Muswellbrook when he was a teenager and one of eight children in a “far from perfect childhood”.

Bishop Thompson then went on to give more detail about an incident in which a cleric, Canon Eric Barker, a man in his 50s at the time, had tried to seduce him as a young man interested in joining the church.

As Bishop Thompson told the commission, this matter had already been aired publicly.

Discussing his early months at the diocese, Thompson said he was repeatedly pressed by people to undo the disciplining of former dean Graeme Lawrence and other priests disciplined or defrocked by his predecessor Brian Farran.

He said Farran had been criticised as being homophobic for what he had done but Farran was not concentrating on homosexual behaviour but on predatory behaviour.

He said some in the diocese were concerned about redressing the past but more were worried about the shame they felt this was bringing the diocese into.

Bishop Thompson spoke about the backlash he has suffered from supporters of Graeme Lawrence and others who objected to the way he made his own abuse experiences public.

He said that at the same time some members of the Cathedral congregation were telling him they supported his efforts they were also writing the (now infamous) letters to the royal commission and to senior Anglican figures that were designed to undermine his work.

He said he had “witnessed people playing multiple roles with conflicts of interest not disclosed at meetings in various positions and then choosing to reveal or to bleed out confidential material and people seemed blind to their obligations”.

Shortly before lunch, Bishop Thompson was asked about the prominent lay figure Keith Allen, who had described himself as an adviser to bishops over 40 years.

At one stage, Allen had told Thompson that “I have more files than you do bishop on professional standards matters in this diocese”.

Asked by counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, if he was surprised by this statement, Bishop Thompson said he took it more as “a threat, actually”.

Thompson said he got the impression that Allen was trying to convince him that he, Allen, was “the go-to person” when it came to matters of interest to the royal commission.

He said former bishops Roger Herft and Brian Farran had both warned him about Allen, describing him as someone who could not be trusted.

The commission has broken for lunch.

12pm: Todd Alexis, counsel for business manager John Cleary, is now taking Cleary through some of the financial aspects of the redress process.

Cleary says he is disgusted that legal fees took more than half of the substantial financial settlement to survivor Phillip D’Ammond was swallowed by legal costs.

He said he knew of two other similar cases where more than half of a substantial settlement. In a couple of cases it involved one law firm and “one particular QC”.

Todd Alexis, counsel for business manager John Cleary

Todd Alexis, counsel for business manager John Cleary

He confirmed that the high legal fees for the D’Ammond case were charged even though that liability had not been an issue and there had not been a court hearing.

Mr D’Ammond said his share of the money went on heroin. He’d been clean for four years before receiving a pile of money with and no financial advice on how to handle it.

Cleary said he believed the diocese’s redress scheme with a cap on payments of up to $150,000 was more generous than most and was financially adequate.

The final witness, Newcastle Bishop Greg Thompson, is taking the stand.

11.50: Business manager John Cleary is being questioned by counsel Taylor for solicitor Robert Caddies, whose involvement in the church’s response to the Peter Rushton “pornography horde” section of the inquiry was examined during the August section of the hearing.

Cleary had previously complained of a lack of support from Caddies.

Taylor took Cleary to a statement from diocesan solicitor Scott Puxty who had written he believed that Caddies had made “genuine attempts” to help with professional standards inquiries and in some cases offered more information than he had been asked for.

Counsel Taylor for solicitor and lay Anglican Robert Caddies

Counsel Taylor for solicitor and lay Anglican Robert Caddies

Despite this positive description, Cleary said he stuck by his descriptions of Caddies.

Taylor put it to Cleary that because of “a lack of recognition from bishops and some lawyers, you have a chip on your shoulder over a failure to be recognised” for his achievements.

Cleary said that was ridiculous and that the church had a need to affirm the professional standards process so the public could have confidence in what the diocese was doing.

11.30: The hearing has resumed with business manager John Cleary being questioned by counsel Healy for former diocesan trustee and solicitor Keith Allen and his wife, psychiatrist Dr Sandra Smith.

Healy is questioning the veracity of a February 2015 file note that he took after speaking with Keith Allen, who the commission had previously heard had told Cleary and Bishop Greg Thompson about the various problems the diocese had in relation to child sexual abuse.

Cleary had described Allen’s revelations as “dynamite”.

Commission chairman Peter McClellan has asked Healy “where all this is going” and was told it went to the accuracy of Cleary’s file note.

Healy, counsel for Keith Allen and his wife, psychiatrist Sandra Smith

Healy, counsel for Keith Allen and his wife, psychiatrist Sandra Smith

Healy has asked Cleary whether he had investigated any of the matters in the file notes that flowed from the meetings with Keith Allen.

He said he had not, and had accepted what Allen said, and that the diocese also had a professional standards director in Michael Elliot to do the investigating.

He confirmed that he did not trust Keith Allen.

Healy has again been reminded by McClellan and counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, of the need to keep moving, and he has agreed to “wrap it up expeditiously”.

Healy has asked if ever checked whether Bishop Appleby had spoken to the police, as he had been told was the case, he said he had not and doubted whether the police would have told him anyway.

He is being asked about other matters that Allen had told him, asking why he would accept the word of a man he did not trust.

He said he accepted Allen’s recall of past events but not his prescriptions for “the way forward”.

10.50am: Business manager John Cleary being questioned by John Booth, counsel for former diocese chancellor Paul Rosser, who has also represented church figures in various court cases as a solicitor/barrister.

Cleary is being questioned over an amendment Cleary says that Rosser moved that would have robbed Cleary of his voting rights at Synod.

Booth argued it was incidental that Cleary was caught up in what had been a move from the floor of the synod to restrict the voting rights of non-Anglicans.

Booth said Rosser had “no idea” Cleary was not an Anglican, which Cleary said would not have been the case.

Counsel for Paul Rosser, a solicitor and former diocesan chancellor

Counsel for Paul Rosser, a solicitor and former diocesan chancellor

Booth suggested the “high water mark” of Rosser’s year-long involvement in professional standards matters was his trying to enhance the  power of hte professional standards boards by adding a power to prohibition orders which could stop contact between prohibited people.

“This was an enhancement of power Mr Elliott did not have,” Booth said.

But Cleary saw it as a weakening because a prohibition order was weaker than the process the bishop previously had.

Cleary went on to say that “your client represented a sex offender in the church” which he did not believe was appropriate while he had a role within the church.

Booth reminded Cleary about the obligations Rosser had as a barrister – the unstated implication being that barristers are obliged to take cases when asked, sometimes called the “cab rank” rule – to which Cleary said: “It was not a good look.”

At this point the chairman, Justice Peter McClellan, intervened, saying to Booth that the answer to his question was “not entirely obvious, either”, at which point Booth said: “You prefaced your remarks [about Rosser] because he was appearing for someone who was alleged to have been” a paedophile.

Cleary: “He was convicted.”

The chair has now adjourned for the morning break, telling three counsel still wanting to question Cleary that they must work out between themselves how they will fit their examinations in to no more than 45 minutes.

10.40am: Counsel Andrew George for Dean Stephen Williams is questioning business manager John Cleary over Cleary’s assertion that Williams was lunching weekly with his defrocked predecessor, Graeme Lawrence.

Cleary has accepted that his description of Williams as “a Lawrence supporter” came from other people, rather than from Williams directly.

George says Williams had not met regularly with Lawrence, and says he had not seen him since 2015, and then only once that year.

Counsel Andrew George for Newcastle Dean Stephen Williams

Counsel Andrew George for Newcastle Dean Stephen Williams

He says he met him only twice in 2014 in his role as the area dean.

Cleary says he believed those two meetings were in addition to the lunches.

Williams put it to Cleary that the person who Lawrence was lunching regularly with was COJ.

Cleary says he has never heard that said before.

10.30am: McLaughlin is still examining Cleary but chairman Justice McClellan has just asked her how much longer she intends to take and to “let’s make it efficient”.

Her examination has ended with her saying to Cleary that the evidence showed Stuart had “stuck it out” in supporting the professional standards ordinances.

But Cleary is adamant that while Stuart may have done the positive things she has pointed out, “in my evidence he was the proponent of Section 77 which destroyed the process and should have been firmer with bishop Farran in CKH and those two things ring out in my mind”.

10.10am: Today is the final day of case study 42 and the chairman of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, told the room yesterday afternoon that proceedings today would definitely have to finish by 4pm today. 

The final witness after John Cleary is to be the current Bishop of Newcastle, Greg Thompson, who has spoken about the opposition he has faced in cleaning up his diocese when it came to child sexual abuse.

9.50am: Business manager John Cleary is being questioned by barrister and counsel Lizzie McLaughlin on behalf of current assistant bishop Peter Stuart.

McLaughlin is questioning Cleary, attempting to bat down Cleary’s criticisms on Wednesday of Stuart, who had stepped in on bishop Farran’s request to replace Cleary for one day to allow Farran to proceed with disciplinary proceedings against then dean Graeme Lawrence and others in the CKH case.

Neither Cleary nor Stuart agreed with Farran’s intention at the time not to defrock Lawrence – a decision he reversed after meeting CKH – but while Cleary said “No way” when it came to helping Farran impose a lesser penalty on Lawrence, Stuart had agreed to work with his bishop.

Cleary said he “understood” that Stuart also had objections to what Farran wanted to do, but he said he could not understand how Stuart could then go on and support Farran.

Lizzie McLaughlin, counsel for assistant Bishop Peter Stuart

Lizzie McLaughlin, counsel for assistant Bishop Peter Stuart

McLaughlin is now asking Cleary about a 2012 review of the professional standards framework.

McLaughlin said there was nothing in the review’s terms of reference to show it was – as Cleary contended – intended to “weaken” professional standards.

Cleary agreed there was “nothing in [the phrase ‘collating information’ that implies weakening” professional standards, but he said it had to be read in context to the atmosphere at the time, when the diocese had just had the John Gumbley and COJ matters and “five other respondents going before the board”.

He insisted the review was “respondent driven” and “not to strengthen the investigations”. 

9.30am: Business manager John Cleary is being questioned by counsel Healy for former Newcastle bishop Roger Herft.

Healy put it to Cleary that he had no direct knowledge of what bishop Herft may or may not have done in relation to child sexual abuse during his time in Newcastle. 

Cleary said that solicitor Keith Allen, who Bishop Greg Thompson had removed from all church positions in April 2015, was not his only source of information and that the diocese had a highly respected director of professional standards in Michael Elliot and he had no reason to doubt what Elliot was saying, and he saw no need to “undermine” him by going off and investigating things himself.

John Cleary giving evidence on Thursday

John Cleary giving evidence on Thursday

Cleary said he had early on formed a view about Keith Allen and found the material he brought to him and Bishop Thompson “alarming.

Counsel Healy for former Newcastle bishop Roger Herft

Counsel Healy for former Newcastle bishop Roger Herft

Here’s a recap of Wednesday’s hearing: Yesterday we heard from the former dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, who stonewalled everything thrown at him, essentially denying there was ever any sexual relationship between himself and a witness called CKH, who experiences with a group of Anglican clergy – including Lawrence – from 1979 until 1985 is named in the terms of reference of this hearing, number 42 in the Royal Commission’s list of investigations.

Lawrence also denied any knowledge of child sexual abuse by other clerics, except the case of priest CKC, which has also been at the centre of these hearings.

After Lawrence finished, the diocese’s business manager since 2007, John Cleary, took the stand.

Cleary revealed there had been between 40 and 50 child sexual abuse cases settled in the diocese.

The hearing is scheduled to resume at 9.30am.

Yesterday, Lawrence denied he had attended the trial in Newcastle of priest CKC, saying that he had been misidentified and that another cleric, Central Coast Archdeacon Rod Bower, was the person who the complainant, CKA, had seen “laughing” with others after the trial.

In a written statement, Bower has denied being the person, saying he was not in Newcastle at the time and could not have been that person.

He says: “At the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today 23rd November Mr. Graeme Lawrence named me in relation to being present with CKC after his trial on 12th September 2001 in Newcastle. On 12th September 2001 I spent the morning following the news from New York on the television. At 1pm I conducted a funeral at Mackay Funerals at Palmdale. My diary also shows that I travelled 71km on that day.

“It is not possible that I was in Newcastle on this occasion.

“Mr. Lawrence is mistaken.”


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