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

Wednesday, August 10

4.26pm

The royal commission has ended for another day.

Joanne McCarthy and Ian Kirkwood wrap up today’s proceedings below.

You can join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #shinethelight.

3.26pm

Mr Watts for Keith Allen is cross examining Peter Mitchell.

Watts: “Are you aware from evidence given by Mr Allen that his recollection is that he was part of what he decribed, I think, as an ad hoc group of people who gave advice to Bishop herft in relation to the contents of those envelopes from time and time and that you were part and parcel of those ad hoc meetings? Do you understand that’s his evidence?”

Mitchell: “I understood, I think I saw something today which mentioned a number of names, including mine. I am not aware of any such ad hoc committee.”

Watts: “You say he is wrong about that?”

Mitchell: “I think he may be mistaken or got the chronology wrong, but I don’t recall it.”

Mr Hale, for Mitchell, is asking his client if he altered the register.

Mitchell: “I did not alter the register.”

Hale: “Were you involved in any attempt to alter that register?”

Mitchell: “Never.”

Mitchell said the first he had heard of the register being altered was from police in the past couple of years.

I did not alter the register.

Peter Mitchell

Hale: “You knew Peter Rushton?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Hale: “Did you like him?”

Mitchell: “No. He was a difficult man to like.”

Hale: “You never sought to protect him?”

Mitchell: “Certainly not.”

Hale: “Did you ever take steps to protect Rushton in relation to allegations of pedophilia?”

Mitchell: “No, certainly not.”

Mitchell has denied that damage to the diocese’s reputation was a consideration in terms of how the diocese dealt with the pornography found at Rushton’s house. 

In a statement by a diocese employee named Mawson, Mawson alleges the diocesan offices relocated a number of times.

Mawson: “From the first 13 years of my employment, I had never seen a document outage or destruction take place. However, over time I became suspicious of Mitchell’s behaviour because he was involving himself in the movement of files when this was not his responsinility. He appeared to be actively looking to discard files of financial relevance and I found it peculiar that financial records were being destroyed under Mitchell’s instruction.”

Hale has called for Michael Elliott’s statement of his meeting with Mitchell in 2012.

Elliott: “I asked Mr Mitchell to consider that persons involved in this conduct were quite happy to go to extraordinary lengths to cover up child sexual abuse, however when he was found to be defrauding the diocese, those same people handed him over to police immediately. I was aware Mitchell had served a term of imprisonment after being convicted for defrauding the Anglican diocese of Newcastle during the period he was registrar. Mr Mitchell wept during our meeting and agreed to get back to me within one week.”

Naomi Sharp for the royal commission is asking final questions.

Sharp: “You gave some answers in relation to questions, that you had been provided with some legal advice, that the material obtained from Peter Rushton’s home was not child pornography?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Sharp: “Who was that legal advice from?”

Mitchell: “There were two aspects. One was the letter from Sparke Helmore. The other was the diocesan solicitors Rankin and Nathan.”

Justice McClellan said he was “troubled by this”.

“Did you not see it was incumbent upon the diocese to satisfy itself as to the true facts?”

Mitchell: “I think the diocese did satisfy itself in terms of the material provided.”

He admitted the diocese did not even see the statements of the removalists.

Mitchell has just agreed that Rankin and Nathan did not view the material and provide advice on it.

The royal commission saw a letter by Greg Hansen, Rushton’s friend and not a practising solicitor at the time, saying the material was not child pornography.

Peter Mitchell has been excused.

3.12pm

Barrister Mr Booth for Paul Rosser is now questioning Mitchell.

Mr Booth is making the point that Rosser was not on any diocese committees and was the deputy chancellor for the relevant period under discussion, and not chancellor.

Booth has called for Mitchell’s 1998 file note that includes reference to Rosser’s advice to the bishop.

Booth: “Would it be fair to say in 1998, 16 years ago or thereabouts, there was a very significant agitation in the minds of your Bishop Herft and perhaps all bishops, between their civil duty to the law and to the state and their pastoral duty to perhaps complainants?”

Mitchell: “It was a significant dilemma.”

Booth: “Mr Rosser, really perhaps, would you agree with me, was just giving the bishop some idea of what would be possibly the best thing to do?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Mitchell has just told the royal commission about a case where “a priest used a private interview to tell the bishop something about his own unfaithfulness and then when Bishop Herft says ‘You have to do something about this’, that priest said ‘No, that was the confessional’. I can’t remember the dates but it was very alive in Bishop Herft’s mind that there were these, if you like, ethical dilemmas that needed to be resolved.”

Justice McClellan has stepped in to comment.

McClellan: “Mr Mitchell, I shouldn’t let that pass. The confessional is very much an issue for the commission in the Anglican and Catholic churches.”

2.03pm

The royal commission has resumed after the lunch break.

Peter Mitchell is being questioned about a letter written to the Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery in 2001.

The letter is a complaint about the “insufficient investigation… into the allegations”.

Former Newcastle Anglican registrar Peter Mitchell

Former Newcastle Anglican registrar Peter Mitchell

Mitchell has denied telling a lie in the letter that the Dean’s office had not been contacted, preferring the words “It’s not true.”

Solicitor Peter O’Brien representing victims CKA and CKB is asking Mitchell about legal advice the diocese received about why it produced CKA’s phone call to Dean Graeme Lawrence to the defence.

Mitchell said he obtained written advice from lawyers Rankin and Nathan. He said it was probably from Robert Caddies.

O’Brien has just put to Mitchell that what he was saying was a lie, and he didn’t receive legal advice.

I suggest to you that you never got advice at all ... and what you have said to CKA here is an outright lie.

Solicitor Peter O'Brien to diocese registrar Peter Mitchell

O’Brien: “You see, I suggest to you that you never got advice at all about the privilege attached to that material and what you have said to CKA here is an outright lie?”

Mitchell: “No I don’t believe so.”

O’Brien: “You got retrospective advice at best from Caddies about the production of that material on subpoena?”

Mitchell: “No I don’t believe so.”

O’Brien is now questioning Mitchell about the yellow envelopes.

O’Brien: “You see, I am going to suggest to you bluntly, you are being totally and completely untruthful when you say that you didn’t have access to these yellow folders, aren’t you?”

Mitchell: “I said I had access.”

O’Brien: “You said you never looked in the yellow envelope and it appears quite obviously you did. Is that so?”

Mitchell: “I had to have done.”

O’Brien: “Mr Mitchell you knew, when you came to this royal commission and you knew in the months, and even the years, leading up to this royal commission that the existence of the yellow envelopes was an important feature of what this commission would be inquiring about, didn’t you?”

Mitchell: “I frankly didn’t really think a lot about it.”

O’Brien has just given a short speech about how bad he feels about defrauding the diocese.

Mitchell: “I have spent so much time trying to suppress what I did. Obviously it was a criminal act, it was more than that. It was a deeply traumatic act for me as well as the diocese.”

Mitchell then went on to give the royal commission a thumbs up – “I think what the royal commission is doing is a very good cause and I would like to be able to help.”

He is now being questioned about an article he wrote for the Anglican Encounter newspaper with the heading “Confusion over false action”.

What you wrote there is false, isn’t it?

Justice Peter McClellan to registrar Peter Mitchell

It reads: “The CKC case has created confusion and concern among many in the diocese and the greater community. Rumours and fears that the matter has not been fairly dealt with are unfounded. The reality is the Crown did not have a case against CKC and was heavily criticised by the judge for attempting to bring action against him under those circumstances.”It went on: “It was only after the trial had started that the Crown began to ask specific questions of the registry. In response to our advice, particularly about the information contained in service registers, the Crown withdrew all charges and the judge discharged the jury, as there were no facts for them to consider.

“The facts show the Crown did not have evidence to bring any action against CKC.”

In that context, yes.

Peter Mitchell

Justice McClellan has just challenged Mitchell on a section of the article about “no facts for them to consider” and “no evidence to bring any action against CKC”

McClellan: “What you wrote there is false, isn’t it?”

Mitchell: ”In those, in that context, yes.”

Mitchell’s article went on: “CKC is a free man, with no criminal record and many years of dedicated service to the church and the community behind him. While he cannot comprehend the actions of the complainants, he bears them no ill will.”

When it was read out there were snorts of derision from people listening to the evidence in Newcastle Courthouse.

Mitchell has admitted it was “totally lacking in compassion”.

O’Brien put to Mitchell that what he wrote about the service register in the document was “an outright lie”.

The “outright lie” related to his statement that it was only after the trial had started that the Crown began to ask specific questions of the registry.

O’Brien told the royal commission the article by Mitchell was “about a prosecution and you are broadcasting to the world that it was an unfair prosecution and that they, the prosecutors, didn’t do their homework”.

Mitchell has just given evidence that he “can’t recall ever having possession of the service register”.

He has just confirmed that, hypothetically, the service register would have been held by him in the safe.

O’Brien is now putting propositions to Mitchell.

O’Brien: “Can you accept from me that there are purported irregularities with the service register?”

Mitchell: “The police raised that with me in one of the interviews.”

O’Brien: “You stole money from those who employed you?”

Mitchell: “Correct.”

O’Brien: “Those were offences of serious dishonesty?”

I want to suggest that you, sir, would be the person who might fraudulently record material in a register to protect your friend?

Solicitor Peter O'Brien to Peter Mitchell

Mitchell: “That’s correct.”

O’Brien: “I want to suggest that you, sir, would be the person who might fraudulently record material in a register to protect your friend?”

Absolutely untrue.

Peter Mitchell

Mitchell: “Absolutely untrue.”

O’Brien: “Because when we look at your conduct through the course of these proceedings, all the way up to the writing of the newspaper article informing the public at large that the prosecution was an unfair one, you have been all the way aimed at one thing: protecting your friend, the priest?”

Mitchell: “Absolutely not.”

O’Brien: “And that you would have gone to any lengths, I suggest, including being involved in the forgery of a document, to protect him?”

Mitchell: “My view at the time, as it is now, is if CKC has to answer questions, then he has to answer questions.”

O’Brien: “Those sir, are hollow words. Hollow words.”

Mitchell: “If I can’t convince you, I can’t convince you.”

Justice McClellan is now questioning Mitchell about a file note of a meeting in 1998 involving Bishop Roger Herft, clergyman Robert Beal, Mitchell and solicitor Greg Hansen after the pornography was found at Peter Rushton’s house.

McClellan: “Did this meeting truly agree to Rushton’s friend being the person who would, view the material and report back on the contents?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

McClellan: “That is an extraordinary position, isn’t it, when what you are investigating is the possibility of a really serious crime by one of the priests of the diocese and you hand over the investigation of the matter to his solicitor. It is extraordinary, isn’t it?”

Mitchell: “I think we view it as a solicitor who would be trustworthy to do that.”

Mr Alexis for Michael Elliott is now questioning Mitchell about a yellow envelope with a date of lodgement from 2003.

He is also going through a list of material in the yellow envelopes. Alexis has asked Mitchell when a filing system listing information about different abuse report allegations was initiated.

Child sex offender priest Peter Rushton.

Child sex offender priest Peter Rushton.

A document before Mitchell notes that an incident involving “sexual assault of a minor” was reported on 1996.

Wrap up of what’s happened so far on day seven:

  • Removalist truck driver Gary Askie gave evidence about what the removalists found when child sex offender priest Peter Rushton moved
  • Former Newcastle Anglican diocese registrar Peter Mitchell gave his evidence and was cross-examined. He denied seeing statements from the removalists, or being aware of statements from the removalists. He was also questioned about about how he became involved in the tendering of the register to the court.

You can follow the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #shinethelight.

12.54pm

Peter Mitchell cross examined by solicitor Peter O’Brien for child sex victims CKA and CKB.

O’Brien has asked Mitchell about a file note relating to CKA’s phone call to Dean Graeme Lawrence on the church help line.

O’Brien: “You can see that CKA made an unequivocal complaint about being sexually abused as a child by CKC. Do you accept that?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

O’Brien: “This is the type of document which would go into a yellow file, is it?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

O’Brien: “Do you know if it did?”

Mitchell: “No, I don’t know.”

O’Brien has put to Mitchell that Graeme Lawrence, Bishop Roger Herft, Paul Rosser, Bishop Richard Appleby and Keith Allen knew about the child sex allegations by CKA against priest CKC in 1999, and asked whether Mitchell stuck to his earlier evidence that he didn’t know until February 2000.

O’Brien: “Are you seriously suggesting that all of those people knew about it and you, working with them, closely, meeting them frequently, were not told about what was going on in your good friend’s life?”

Mitchell: “Yes, no one said anything to me about that before those file notes were produced.”

O’Brien: “I suggest, sir, that you knew in 1999 and you have been untruthful in relation to your evidence as to your knowledge of the allegations against CKC?”

Bishop Roger Herft.

Bishop Roger Herft.

Mitchell: “No, I don’t believe so.”

12 noon

Peter Mitchell cross examined.

Mr Alexis for professional standards director Michael Elliott is asking questions.

Mitchell’s file note says: “If a complaint (about sexual misconduct by clergy) is not reduced to writing then no further action is taken and this may mean that inappropriate behaviour goes undetected until such times as someone is willing to lodge a formal written complaint.”

 Alexis: “Should we understand that that sentence reflects the position on these issues and the practice of the Diocese of Newcastle under Bishop Herft at the time, namely, May 1998?”

Mitchell: “Yes I think that the way the committee operated was to record written complaints.”

Alexis asked whether a verbal complaint, over the phone, would mean no action?

Peter Mitchell outside Newcastle Courthouse

Peter Mitchell outside Newcastle Courthouse

Mitchell said it would depend on the circumstances.

Justice McClellan said the system meant that “everything is going back to the complainant”, meaning responsibility to do something to stop a church offender was put back on a child sex victim.

Alexis has taken Mitchell to his file note which records Paul Rosser, QC, advising that the bishop “where possible, ought to decline to accept information or to read any reports”.

If a complaint (about sexual misconduct by clergy) is not reduced to writing then no further action is taken and this may mean that inappropriate behaviour goes undetected.

Former registrar Peter Mitchell

Alexis: “I gather we should understand that after that advice was tendered to the bishop by Mr Rosser, from what you could see of the bishop’s practice in relation to these matters, he followed that advice?”

Mitchell: “I believe so.”

Alexis: “The essence of this advice, as you understand it, and it’s perhaps plain from your file note, is that the bishop was advised by Mr Rosser that if he is not receiving because he declines the opportunity to accept it, then he would not become obliged to do anything with that information?”

The reference to “invidious position” in Mitchell’s note is that if the bishop accepts information about allegations involving priests it might oblige him to report to police “if it was information concerning a criminal offence”, Alexis told the royal commission.

The file note also has a subheading “Confessions.”

“Mr Robert Caddies had provided the bishop with some notes on the extent of confession and the bishop asked Mr Rosser to review the notes and if necessary provide further advice on the extent of confessions, particularly whether the definition was wide enough to include an interview, rather than a formal confession,” the note said.

Former Newcastle Anglican chancellor Paul Rosser, QC

Former Newcastle Anglican chancellor Paul Rosser, QC

Mitchell gave a long explanation of what that meant until Justice Peter McClellan said: “Mr Mitchell, the clear reason for this was because if a statement was made in confession then it would be protected from disclosure?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

McClellan: “That’s why this issue was on the agenda and the question was whether or not when someone is given information in an interview, it would be protected?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

McClellan: “That’s what was going on, wasn’t it?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Alexis has just taken Mitchell to a file note about the Rushton pornography issue.

The file note was a meeting between Bishop Herft, Mitchell and Mr Hansen on December 3, 1998.

Alexis: “There was uncertainty about whether that collection involved children, is that right?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

 Alexis: “If the pornography collection included child pornography then it was plain not just to you but to the bishop, as far as you could see, that there was a legal reporting issue, correct?”

Mitchell: “Correct.”

Alexis: “Did you ever receive and read the statements (of the three furniture removalists who found child pornography in Father Peter Rushton’s belongings?)”

Mitchell: “No.”

Alexis: “Are you able to tell us whether or not, as the registrar of the day and the one that was involved in at least one meeting with Bishop Herft in connection with this matter, whether the written statements were received?”

If the pornography collection included child pornography then it was plain not just to you but to the bishop, as far as you could see, that there was a legal reporting issue, correct?

Question put to former Newcastle Anglican registrar Peter Mitchell

Mitchell: “I’m not aware that they were received. We received a letter from Sparke Helmore (representing Farragher Removals).”

Alexis: “Are you aware who it was that made the suggestion that if Farragher Removals did or said anything about what had been found at Rushton’s residence, there might be a defamation action brought against the removalists?”

Mitchell: “No, I’m not aware anybody discussing that.”

Justice McClellan has told the royal commission Sparke Helmore should come to the royal commission to respond to a notice asking it to supply the written statements of the three removalists, after disputed evidence about whether those statements included references to child pornography. Naomi Sharp advised the commission Sparke Helmore said there were no documents. Sharp told the commission the luncheon break would be used to contact Sparke Helmore to respond to Justice McClellan’s request.

John Farragher made a statement to the royal commission on 2 August 2016 in which he said he left the Rushton pornography matter to a manager in the company and “I believe there was an agreement reached that the church would remove the child pornography before the move continued. This was done and my employees returned the next day to complete the move, although it was a different moving crew,” he said.

In his statement Farragher said: “I was contacted later that day or next day by Bishop Herft, the conversation covered the incident and finding of the photographs and next steps. I was surprised and disappointed by the tone of the conversation since Bishop Herft seemed to be concentrating on controlling any potential reputational damage and or ‘putting the fire out’ instead of the fact that Rushton had child pornography in his house, the implications this had and the welfare and upset of our removal team on site. He requested that I not go to the media. He wasn’t intimidating or threatening during the call. It just seemed like he was in damage control.” 

Mr Alexis for professional standards director Michael Elliott

Mr Alexis for professional standards director Michael Elliott

Peter Mitchell is now being questioned about his meeting with Michael Elliott in 2012. He said he wrote a letter to Elliott immediately after their meeting.

Alexis: “There’s nothing in this letter at all, is there, Mr Mitchell, to suggest that during this meeting Mr Elliott intimidated you or that you felt in any way intimidated by the discussion with him, is there?”

The royal commission resumes from the morning tea break on the seventh day of evidence with former diocese registrar Peter Mitchell in the witness box.

He (Bishop Roger Herft) requested that I not go to the media. It just seemed like he was in damage control.

Removalist John Farragher

11.38am

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp immediately starts questioning Mitchell about Bishop Roger Herft.

Sharp: “Was Bishop Herft, to your knowledge, kept in the loop about the CKC prosecution?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Sharp is now questioning Mitchell about a meeting with professional standards director Michael Elliott on July 25, 2012.

Sharp: “You say you felt bullied and intimidated at that meeting?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

It’s worth remembering that Mitchell was convicted of defrauding the diocese of nearly $200,000 more than a decade earlier. He said at the time that the money paid for lifestyle choices.

Mitchell appeared to get choked up and Sharp said to him “Take your time.”

Mitchell said he was feeling “very vulnerable when I met with him”.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp.

Mitchell: “One of the things he said to me at one point, he described some covert operation he had been involved with. I queried that and he said ‘The end justifies the means’.”

Sharp: “Mr Mitchell, is it right that in the event you did not provide any assistance to Mr Elliott?”

Mitchell: “No, I refused to have anything to do with him.”

Sharp is now questioning him about former business manager John Cleary’s file notes about “brown envelopes” holding child sex allegations.

In one of his file notes Cleary quotes Keith Allen saying there was a panel comprising Bishop Herft, Allen, Mr Helman, Robert Caddies and Graeme Lawrence.

Sharp: “You are aware that certain allegations against priest were kept in large envelopes?”

Mitchell: “Yes they were.”

Sharp: “And they were kept separate from the diocese’s other files?”

Mitchell: “They were kept in those envelopes in the safe, yes.”

Mitchell has confirmed he had one of two keys giving access to the brown envelopes.

In a file meeting by Mitchell it notes “the chair and the registrar should liaise at regular intervals to determine whether there are any patterns of behaviour or involvement emerging from the names of claimants and respondents which may require further investigation”.

Mitchell said he did not recall liaising with the chair and following his own note, which Justice McClellan described as “extraordinary”.

Sharp and McClellan are finding it difficult to accept some of Mitchell’s answers.

Sharp: “Are you telling the truth?”

Mitchell: “I swore an oath that I would tell the truth. I’m telling the truth.”

Mitchell is now giving evidence that he wasn’t aware of the contents of the mysterious “brown envelopes” whose contents Keith Allen was also ignorant about.

Sharp: “These envelopes were stored in your office, weren’t they?”

Mitchell: “In a safe in the office.”

I swore an oath that I would tell the truth. I’m telling the truth.

Former registrar Peter Mitchell

Sharp: “Do you deny on your oath that you were part of a group within the diocese who reviewed these brown envelopes from time to time?”

Another file note by John Cleary has Keith Allen saying Graeme Lawrence, Jim Helman, Bishop Herft, Robert Caddies, Mitchell, Paul Rosser and Keith Allen were part of an advisory committee about the brown envelopes.

Sharp has now produced a confidential report by Michael Elliott titled “The Yellow Envelopes Report”. A sample envelope carries a yellow envelope with material about Peter Rushton.

Sharp: “During your time as the diocesan registrar, were you ever made aware of any allegations that priests or laypeople associated with the diocese had engaged in child sexual abuse?”

Former Newcastle Anglican registrar Peter Mitchell

Former Newcastle Anglican registrar Peter Mitchell

Mitchell: “There was the matter that I’ve been asked about. And Ian Barrack.”

Sharp: “Anyone else?”

Mitchell: “No.”

9.52am

Former Newcastle Anglican diocese registrar Peter Mitchell starts his evidence.

Mitchell was registrar from 1993 to 2002. He resigned after he was charged with defrauding the diocese of nearly $200,000.

Mitchell said the last time he had contact with former Newcastle Anglican solicitor Keith Allen was in 2002, with defrocked former Dean Graeme Lawrence in 2002, and he denied having a friendship with former Newcastle Anglican chancellor Paul Rosser.

Mitchell has confirmed he had a box delivered to his office which contained some videos.

Mitchell: “From what I can recall, it was quite a large carton and I would think there were maybe 20 or 30 videos in cases. I looked at the covers and the covers did not appear to depict minors but men who looked to be in their 20s or 30s.”

Sharp: “Did it ever cross your mind that you may not have been provided with all of the videos or other materials in respect of which complaint had been made about Peter Rushton?”

Mitchell: “No, it did not.” 

Sharp has just asked Mitchell whether there was a discussion with Bishop Roger Herft about the fact that possession of child pornography is illegal.

Mitchell answered “Correct.”

Did it ever cross your mind that you may not have been provided with all of the videos or other materials in respect of which complaint had been made about Peter Rushton?

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp

A file note of the meeting in 1998, produced by Mitchell, said “The quantity of videos and catalogues and other materials and N’s (Rushton’s) attitude suggested a very serious pattern of behaviour of addiction, presumably over a long period of time.”

Mitchell described it as “sexually explicit material”.

No it did not.

Former Newcastle Anglican registrar Peter Mitchell

The note includes videotapes with titles like “Ram and Jam”, “Move Over Johnny”, “Bore’n Stroke”, “Preppy Summer”, “Primitive Impulse” and “Hard Labor”.

Sharp: “Is it fair to say that your understanding, at least in the beginning, was Peter Rushton was not being cooperative in the church’s investigations of the matter?”

Mitchell: “Yes that’s right.”

Sharp” “And is it the fact that Rushton threatened to sue the diocese over the matter?”

Mitchell: “I’ve seen a file note about that, yes.”

Mitchell has denied seeing statements from the removalists, or being aware of statements from the removalists.

Sharp is now questioning Mitchell about the priest CKC, who was charged with child sex offences against CKA and CKB in the 1970s. Mitchell was a good friend of CKC.

CKC was charged in August 2000.

Mitchell has denied having a conversation with CKC about CKC being charged. He has told the royal commission he was not aware until he received a subpoena about it.

He has denied discussing the matter with former Newcastle Anglican trustee and solicitor Keith Allen.

Sharp: “Is it fair to say that it is an extraordinary, rather than an ordinary, matter when the registrar’s office is contacted by police looking for information about a priest who had served in the diocese?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Mitchell said he considered it was his role to assist police in their investigations into a priest formerly licensed in Newcastle diocese. CKC had been out of the diocese for about five years by the time he was charged.

A file note from the diocese has just been produced.

It records that a diocese employee named Lyn Douglas received a phone call on February 7, 2000 from a Port Macquarie police officer.

The file note said the police officer asked if the priest CKC was still in the diocese.

Mitchell has agreed he knew about police investigating CKC from that time, rather than, on his evidence, much later after CKC was charged in August 2000.

He has denied contacting CKC.

Sharp: “I suggest to you that as at 14 February 2000 you were well aware that police were looking for CKC in relation to allegations of sexual abuse?”

Mitchell: “It says alleged assault there (in the file note), but the fact that the call was directed to Lyn Douglas would lead me to conclude it was a sexual abuse.”

Sharp has just produced a letter written by Graeme Lawrence to Mitchell on 15 February 2000, headed “Strictly private and confidential”, noting that “Further to our conversation today, I attach a statement regarding the most recent telephone call in the sexual abuse matter.”

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp.

Sharp: “I suggest to you that you were well aware that in around August 1999, Graeme Lawrence had received a phone call from CKA alleging that he had been sexually abused by CKC as a child?”

Mitchell: “Not aware.”

Sharp: “So I understand by February 15 the Dean, one of the most senior officials in the diocese, was writing to you about the sexual abuse matter?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Mitchell has agreed he was well aware of CKC’s whereabouts when police were trying to find him.

Sharp: “You made no attempt to contact the police at this time to make them aware of CKC’s whereabouts?”

So I understand by February 15 the Dean, one of the most senior officials in the diocese, was writing to you about the sexual abuse matter?

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp to former registrar Peter Mitchell

Mitchell: “I understood that was directed through Lyn Douglas.”

Mitchell has just told the royal commission he didn’t have the police officer’s details, and Sharp immediately responded “I don’t know about that”, called for a file note showing the police officer’s contact details, and Mitchell confirmed he did have the officer’s contact details.

Sharp has just asked Mitchell why he and Graeme Lawrence were sharing information at this time.

Mitchell: “He was simply informing me he had received a phone call.”

Sharp has now produced a letter from Mitchell to Keith Allen on February 17, 2000 about CKC’s history with the diocese, including dates when he was at different parishes.

Sharp: “We may take it that Keith Allen did, prior to sending you this letter, have some kind of communication with you about CKC?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Sharp: “And that was a communication in relation to an allegation that CKC had sexually abused a boy, correct?”

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Sharp has now produced a police officer’s duty book from May 2000. It says “CKC and contact Dean of Newcastle office re dates – unable to assist – maybe 1974”.

Sharp: “Does that surprise you that the Dean’s office was unable to assist with dates in relation to CKC at the time he was licensed in the diocese?”

Mitchell: “Only to the extent that they wouldn’t necessarily have the information.”

Sharp: “Is it the case that you were adopting a deliberately obstructive approach to police inquiries?”

Mitchell: “I can’t speak for Dean Lawrence.”

Sharp has just produced a subpoena issued to Mitchell as the registrar in April 2001, relating to the CKC case and sent by Keith Allen.

Mitchell has responded “I don’t recall” after he was asked if he had had any conversations with Allen about documents held by the registry before the subpoena was issued.

Sharp has produced a copy of the membership roll for the diocesan synod sessions 1978 to 1984.

Sharp: “Could I direct your attention to the year 1978?”

Defrocked former Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence.

Defrocked former Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence.

Mitchell: “Yes.”

Sharp: “Do you agree that it looks like the 8 has been amended by hand?”

Mitchell: “That’s a possibility.”

He has denied having any knowledge of how the amendment was made.The alleged child sexual assault occurred in 1974 or 1975.

Sharp: “Are you able to assist in any way with understanding why the membership roll for the diocesan synod is only sourced back to 1978?”

Mitchell: “No I can’t help you with that.”

Could I direct your attention to the year 1978? Do you agree that it looks like the 8 has been amended by hand?

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp

Sharp: “Did you have any conversations at all about this paragraph with Mr Allen before this schedule was issued?”

Mitchell: “No.”

That's a possibility.

Peter Mitchell

Mitchell is now being questioned about materials produced to police in response to a subpoena. The list does not include Mitchell’s 17 February 2000 letter to Keith Allen giving precise details about CKC’s history as a priest in Newcastle Anglican diocese.

Mitchell is now being questioned about a letter to Keith Allen in April 2001 which includes the lines: “We have not found any correspondence in the bishop’s personal files... containing any complaint of sexual misconduct by Rev CKC”.

Justice Peter McClellan is now questioning Mitchell about notes of a May 1998 meeting, made by Mitchell, and including Bishop Roger Herft and Paul Rosser.

Mitchell has confirmed the accuracy of his note that says: “Mr Rosser advised the bishop that wherever pastorally possible he ought to decline to accept information or to read any repoorts. In declining he should advise the person making the complaint that if the matter is one of a criminal offence then he may be obliged to do something under criminal law, and equally if the matter is one of a serious breach of the professional standards expected of clergy, then he may have to weigh up the pastoral implications of leaving a priest in a postion where he may do further harm as opposed to the pastoral considerations of the person making the allegations. In terms of an interview it would be prudent for the bishop to make such an explanation as early as possible in the conversation so that the person making the allegations is well aware that they place the bishop in an invidious position and it might be more appropriate to make the complaint to one of the sexual harassment contact persons.”

Sharp is now questioning Mitchell about his involvement with the trial of CKC at Newcastle in September 2001.

Sharp: “Is it the case that you were provided with the register of services before the court was provided with the register of services?”

Justice Peter McClellan.

Justice Peter McClellan.

Mitchell: “I don’t recall how the service register became available to the court.”

The significance of the register is that we heard evidence on Monday and Tuesday about amendments to the document and how its tendering at the court case led to the trial against CKC being no-billed.

We have not found any correspondence in the bishop’s personal files... containing any complaint of sexual misconduct by Rev CKC.

Newcastle Anglican diocese

Mitchell is now being questioning about how he became involved in the tendering of the register to the court. He said he can’t recall if he got a subpoena, or if he received a phone call.

The royal commission has just been shown a transcript from the 2001 case in which Paul Rosser speaks. It has Rosser saying: “Now on Tuesday I obtained the original of the register of services. I made that available to the crown prosecutor”.

Sharp: “This rather suggested that Mr Rosser had the document before the court had the document.”

Mitchell: “Yes it does.”

Sharp: “Are you able to provide any explanation as to how the document may have been available to Mr Rosser before it was available to the court?”

Mitchell: “No I can’t.”

Sharp is now taking Mitchell to the 17 February 2000 letter from him to solicitor Keith Allen, representing CKC, that was not produced under subpoena. Mitchell has just confirmed it was not produced. It contained CKC’s history in the diocese.

Sharp: “When you say to CKA in your 16 October 2001 letter is that the church did not in any direct way provide records to the Rev CKC’s defence except through compulsory court processes is simply not true?”

Mitchell: “I believed it at the time.”

Mitchell is now being questioned about CKA’s letter of complaint to Bishop Roger Herft.

In the letter CKA says confidential conversations he had with Dean Graeme Lawrence were transcribed and provided to CKC’s defence counsel.

“The breach of confidentiality completed the betrayal and abandonment of myself by the church,” CKA told Herft.

Mitchell took advice from solicitor Robert Caddies about a return letter to CKA. The letter includes the statement “The church did not in any direct way provide records to CKC’s defence except through compulsory court processes.”

Sharp: “That’s simply not true, right?”

Mitchell: “Right.”

Sharp: “It was also not true because the defence team had access to the register of services way before the court did.”

Sharp: “Did you have conversations with Mr Allen about accessing that register?”

Mitchell: “I don’t recall directly, no.”

The breach of confidentiality completed the betrayal and abandonment of myself by the church.

Child sex victim CKA about Newcastle diocese's response to his allegations about an Anglican priest.

Sharp has just asked Mitchell if he is aware police are now re-investigating the CKC matter.

Sharp: “Have you had conversations with Mr Allen about that?”

Mitchell: “I haven’t spoken with Mr Allen since 2002.”

The royal commission has adjourned for the morning tea break.

9.34am

Removalist truck driver Gary Askie gives evidence about what the removalists found when child sex offender priest Peter Rushton moved

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp worked for John Farragher Removals in 1998.

Sharp: “What did you see?”

Askie: “I saw a few movies with male people having sex with each other on the covers, on the cover of one of them there was a couple of pictures of a young person.’’

Sharp:” Was that young person clothed or naked?”

Askie: “No they were all naked.”

Sharp: “When you say young person, what was the age?”

Askie: “Well, I would think he would be around 12.”

Sharp: “How did that make you feel when you viewed that material?”

Askie: “Absolutely shocked and horrified and sick.”

Sharp: “Is it right that you reported to your bosses Phil Carey and John Farragher what you saw that day?

Askie: “Yes.”

Sharp: “Were you ever asked to sign any sort of document or statement?”

Askie: “I was.”

Sharp: “What were you asked to sign?”

Askie: “I’m pretty sure it was something to the events where I wasn’t allowed to talk about it. I was told the church knew he was gay.”

Askie was asked if it indicated the age of the boy. He said no.

Barrister Mr Alexis for professional standards director Michael Elliott is questioning him about a letter written to the Bishop of the day, Roger Herft.

I saw a few movies with male people having sex with each other on the covers, on the cover of one of them there was a couple of pictures of a young person.

Furniture removalist Gary Askie

Alexis: “You will see that the author of the letter, the identity of who doesn’t matter for the purpose of this question, says that on the Tuesday, the day before the date of the letter, he spoke with Jim Jackson of John Farragher Removals and that he, Mr Jackson, had spoken to three men involved in the removal of Rushton’s furniture and possessions.”

Alexis has asked Askie if he was aware a complaint had been made to the diocese about what he had seen.

Askie: “Yes.”

Alexis: “You knew that the statement was going to be used in relation to the complaint that had been made?”

Askie: “Yes.”

Gary Askie

Gary Askie

Alexis: “Did you ever become aware of any agreement or arrangement to have the child pornography that you’d seen at Father Rushton’s residence disposed of in some way?”

Askie: “At the time I was a bit confused as what I’d seen and all that sort of things so I didn’t really know what to do.”

Mr Healy for Archbishop Herft has asked Askie if he was aware that after the complaint with Farragher Removalists they advised lawyers in relation to what they should do?

Askie: “I don’t know the course of what they did.”

Healy is quoting from a letter from Spark Helmore: “Our client has now investigated matters further and has instructed us to advise you that it could find no evidence to suggest that Father Rushton’s belongings included paedophiliac material. Our client apologises for any distress or concern which the abovementioned statements may have caused.”

Askie said he didn’t retract any statement.

Askie: “I was never asked to retract any statement.”

Solicitor Peter O’Brien for victims CKA and CKB.

O’Brien: “If the lawyers have written to the bishop saying that the peopld doing the job that you were doing never saw any child pornography material, that’s wrong, isn’t it?”

Askie: “Well, yes.”

Gary Askie has completed his evidence.

9.32am

Justice Peter McClellan has confirmed the Newcastle Anglican public hearing will take the first two days of the Catholic public hearing from August 29 because it is highly unlikely it will be finalised this week as planned.

9.30am

Good morning everyone. It’s Joanne McCarthy at Newcastle Courthouse for the sixth day of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearing into Newcastle Anglican diocese.

Day six wrap up:

  • Solicitor and former Newcastle Anglican trustee Keith Allen concluded giving evidence after being in the witness box for nearly three days. 
  • Allen denied “fixing” a statement that has wife, psychiatrist Sandra Smith, gave to the Royal Commission.
  • Child sex abuse survivor CKH gave evidence, he told the commission that priest Andrew Duncan first had sex with him when he was 14, in 1980, when Duncan came on a holiday with CKH’s family on a houseboat on the Hawkesbury River.
  • CKH said he believed rector of the church at the time, Graeme Lawrence knew of the sexual activity by 1980.
  • CKH told the royal commission Lawrence came to his family home in 1981, put CKH’s hand on Lawrence’s erect penis, and told him he could “have that any time”.

You can join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #shinethelight.

Defrocked former Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence will now give evidence to the public hearing in Newcastle.

Defrocked former Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence will now give evidence to the public hearing in Newcastle.

This story Live coverage: Day seven of the Newcastle child sexual abuse royal commission first appeared on Newcastle Herald.