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

Professional standards director Michael Elliott.
Professional standards director Michael Elliott.

Thursday, August 11

4.30pm

Day eight of the commission has ended.

Wrap up of day eight:

  • Newcastle Anglican diocese professional standards director Michael Elliott was in the witness box all day giving evidence.
  • Elliott told the commission he received allegations from CKH about Graeme Lawrence, Andrew Duncan, Bruce Hoare, Greg Goyette and Graeme Sturt on October 7, 2009 and reported them immediately to police. Police investigated and asked Elliott to put a church investigation on hold.
  • The commission heard that there were threats against Elliott and there was support the defrocked dean of Newcastle, Graeme Lawrence, received from people in high places.
  • Elliott also stood by his belief that former registrar Peter Mitchell had “tampered” with one of the yellow envelopes in the church’s abuse files.

Joanne McCarthy and Ian Kirkwood wrap up the day in three minutes below.

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

3.11pm

Mr Booth for Paul Rosser, QC questions Michael Elliott.

Booth is asking Michael Elliott about the professional standards hearings involving a former Anglican priest named John Gumbley, who was deposed because of a relationship with a woman.

Booth has questioned Elliott about the “spiritual diaries” of Gumbley which came into the possession of Elliott and the professional standards committee “possibly, if not probably, illegally obtained”.

Booth: “Would you consider it appropriate to use material that possibly, if not probably, was illegally obtained and in breach of the Crimes Act?”

Elliott: “I think it was appropriate to put that material forward based on the advice I had received for others to make that assessment.”

Booth is now questioning Elliott about the case of a second priest, COJ, who was the subject of disciplinary action after misconduct involving women.

Booth is questioning Elliott about amendments proposed in 2010 to the professional standards ordinance, and prepared by Mr Rosser, which included a section on directions to clergy where the diocese needed to put in place risk management after disciplinary findings.

Mr Booth for Paul Rosser, QC.

Mr Booth for Paul Rosser, QC.

Elliott has conceded “these amendments would have been helpful to me to implement meaningful risk management” but noone had brought it to his attention.

Booth: “Have you been labouring under a misapprehension in respect to him (Rosser), perhaps?”

Elliott: “I don’t think so.”

Booth is questioning Elliott about a report by Paul Rosser about the professional standards investigations of Gumbley and COJ.

In the report Rosser talks about “improperly obtained material” from a person who “appears to have accessed Mr Gumbley’s private journal on his computer and printed extracts” for use as evidence in the professional standards case against him.

“It would appear to me to be axiomatic that a body concerned with professional standards should itself be seen to be upholding professional standards,” Rosser wrote.

Booth has finished his questioning by putting the following to Elliott: 

Booth: “He was actually trying to make your o easier by applying or by making available to you another tool that before then had not been available. What do you say about that?”

Elliott: “As I said, I’ve only just learned of that. At the time, at that meeting with Mr Rosser and myself, I formed a view that he was being unhelpful to me in trying to implement meaningful risk management.”

Booth has ended his cross examination.

3.44pm

Michael Elliott is being questioned by Watts for Keith Allen and has expressed some exasperation at the lack of response from police when he first contacted them about abuse allegations.

Watts: “You say in your statement that you provided the contents of the (yellow) envelopes to police and the royal commission?”

It culminated, when I didn’t see that there was a significant response from police, in me scanning the entirety of my files and providing them to police.

Michael Elliott

Elliott: “Yes.”

Watts: “Upon inspecting them in 2009, you appreciated there were serious allegations of sexual impropriety involving abuse by clergy against children?”

Elliott: “Yes.”

Watts: “And you didn’t pass that information on to the police at that time?”

Elliott: “That’s not correct. I did, I reported that to police immediately in 2009 and I recorded that report and I reported it to police many times after that, every opportunity I had I reported it to police, and it culminated, when I didn’t see that there was a significant response from police, in me scanning the entirety of my files and providing them to police.”

Watts is questioning Elliott about information he received from church archivist Tim Mawson, arguing that anything he received had very little “probative value”.

Peter Skinner for Bishop Richard Appleby is now asking Elliott about the yellow envelopes and about a January 2013 visit from Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart and business manager John Cleary in which Stuart told Elliott there were 27 envelopes. Elliott tells Skinner he doesn’t know whether Stuart knew that he [Ellliott] already knew about the envelopes already.

Elliott’s file note – which the commission has already seen – included an observation that “Stephen Gray was an active offender” who was “eventually convicted of having intercourse with a police officer’s stepson”.

Despite a belief that Bishop Roger Herft may take the stand this afternoon on Thursday it is now 4.22pm and Elliott is still in the stand. A suggestion he may have come on as “night watchman” in cricketing terms now appears highly unlikely. The court staff want the building emptied each afternoon by 4.30pm.

Bishop Roger Herft

Bishop Roger Herft

Michelle Fernando for Reverend Colvin Ford has begun questioning Elliott at 4.28pm . . .  about the destruction of Peter Rushton’s pornography and that Father David Simpson had told Elliott about going to Rushton’s and collected “six travel bags” of pornographic videos. He tried to burn them but had difficulties and eventually broke them to pieces and fulled three wheelie bins with material.

He said Simpson said there was no child pornography.

It has now adjourned until 9.30am.

Back tomorrow.

2.02pm

The royal commission has resumed after lunch.

Newcastle Anglican diocese professional standards director Michael Elliott is still giving evidence.

Elliott has told the commission documents are “Mr Caddies’ advice about destruction of records on that file and both of those documents came from that yellow envelope file”.

Barrister Maria Gerace for former registrar Peter Mitchell has raised an issue with the document being tendered. Earlier on Thursday Elliott told the royal commission of an allegation Mitchell transposed the names of a child sex complainant and alleged abuser on one of the “yellow envelopes”.

Justice Peter McClellan has accepted a letter dated 28 April, 2002 and a file note of the same day and we’re just about to hear what the significance of these documents is.

Justice Peter McClellan

Justice Peter McClellan

The file note was written by former chair of the diocese’s sexual misconduct committee, Jean Sanders. She was concerned about the names of a complainant and an abuser being transposed.

Gerace has just put to Elliott that it could have been an error.

Elliott: “I’ve never seen circumstances where that’s occurred before. This is the only time.”

The complaint was by a child against another child, and was in the file because “both families were heavily involved in the church”.

The “yellow envelopes” system was used between 2002 and 2009, with another system before that time.

The “Yellow Envelopes Report” says: “Some of the main individuals recorded as being involved in the handling and management of a number of the yellow envelope complaints include Bishop Roger Herft, Peter Mitchell, Graeme Lawrence, Bruce Hoare, Paul Rosser, Robert Caddies, Keith Allen, Sandra Smith, Lyn Douglas, Jean Sanders, Meri Bird.”

Gerace is now questioning Elliott about the timing of the writing of the report, which was after the royal commission had been established in November, 2012, when he would have been aware the document would go before the royal commission.

Gerace has asked Elliott how he could include Peter Mitchell in a list of people “handling” and managing the yellow envelope complaints after 2002 when Mitchell was forced to resign from his position as registrar in 2002 after he was charged with defrauding the diocese of nearly $200,000.

In his “Yellow Envelopes Report” for Bishop Thompson, Elliott notes that “On 29 January, 2013 Keith Allen told Bishop Peter Stuart that he had been part of a review team who reviewed the ‘yellow envelope’ cases biannually. He indicated that also on that review team were Bishop Roger Herft, Peter Mitchell, Graeme Lawrence and Bishop Richard Appleby and they were assisted by Robert Caddies. On another occasion Allen indicated… that the review practice was that if the complainant in any given matter had not engaged legal representation that was actively attempting to progress the matter then the standard response was to ‘do nothing’.”

Gerace and Elliott have just engaged in a lengthy question and answer session in which Gerace took issue with Elliott’s use of the word “tampering” in his Yellow Envelope Report in relation to the transposing of a complainant and abuser’s name on one of the yellow envelopes, and his suggestion Mitchell could have been involved. Gerace said it could have been a mistake. Elliott stuck by use of the word “tamper”.

Elliott and Gerace are now talking about the meeting in 2012 between Elliott and Peter Mitchell where Mitchell accused Elliott of bullying him.

Bishop Roger Herft

Bishop Roger Herft

Elliott mentioned a number of bishops including Holland, Appleby, Herft and Beal and “their potential connection in covering up child sexual abuse”.

Elliott told Mitchell he might also have been “complicit”.

Elliott has agreed Mitchell told him he was not aware of complaints against clergy and couldn’t see how he could assist.

Gerace: “Did you also speak about investigating the work of Keith Allen and Paul Rosser who had defended clergy within the court system and make some comment about the propriety or otherwise of their work?”

Elliott: “Yes, I probably did.”

The royal commission has just been shown Mitchell’s record of that meeting which includes a reference to Elliott telling him that “it would be easier to give me a list of priests who were not involved in paedophilia than a list of those who were”.

Bishop Alfred Holland

Bishop Alfred Holland

Elliott has just agreed with barrister Kerkyasharian for Robert Caddies, that one of the documents from April 2002 notes “Robert advised not to destroy certain documents”.

Elliott has just confirmed he had asked diocese lawyer Mr Puxty to ask questions of Mr Caddies, who was the diocese’s former lawyer.

12.59pm

The royal commission has adjourned for the lunch break.

11.50am

You made the point that it would be easier to give me a list of priests who were not involved in paedophilia than a list of those who were.

Disgraced registrar Peter Mitchell quoting Michael Elliott

The royal commission has resumed after the morning tea break. Professional standards director Michael Elliott in the witness box.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp is questioning Elliott about three of the 36 yellow envelopes being about the late child sex offender priest Peter Rushton.

Elliott is now being questioned about the release of a statement to the media in 2010 in which the diocese identified Rushton as a child sex offender. Elliott initiated that release.

Elliott referred to a complaint about convicted child sex offender priest Ian Barrack and his concerns that there were no additional processes by the diocese after convictions.

Elliott: “It was apparent that there were a number of clergy and .aypeople associated with the church who had criminal convictions, in many respects for child sex abuse offences, where there had been no internal or additional outcomes with regard to risk management or discipline.”

Elliott is now being questioned about the diocese’s dealings with Rev Chris Bird, rector of Adamstown parish, where Lawrence and Goyette were.

Chris Bird “did not want to cooperate and did not appear to be taking the issue of risk management of Goyette and Lawrence seriously”, Elliott said.

Elliott instigated a letter on September 17, 2012 to Bird outlining risk management expectations in respect of Lawrence and Goyette.

Sharp: “Is it fair to say that no formal risk management policy was put in place until 14 November 2014?”

Convicted child sex offender priest Ian Barrack

Convicted child sex offender priest Ian Barrack

Elliott: “That’s right.”

Elliott has told the royal commission he became aware of a “core group of persons associated with the Anglican diocese… who seemed to be working in a coordinated way. I also formed the view that many within this group of persons were linked to, and supporters of, a number of abusers within the church”.

A list of names has been furnished to the royal commission. 

Sharp: “You say that you believe you have endured a high level of interference in most aspects of your work. This has included practises such as isolation, bullying, policy changes, under-resourcing, reviews, oversight, personal attacks and lack of support.”

Elliott has outlined a list of events at his home of vandalism and attacks on his car.

Elliott is being questioned about Peter Mitchell’s allegations that Elliott bullied him at a meeting between the two.

Elliott: “I certainly wished to, in that meeting, apply pressure to him.”

You say that you believe you have endured a high level of interference in most aspects of your work. This has included practises such as isolation, bullying, policy changes, under-resourcing, reviews, oversight, personal attacks and lack of support.

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp to witness Michael Elliott

Sharp: “What do you mean you wished to apply pressure to him?”

Elliott: “I wished for him to be  uncomfortable about the circumstances that he was in, in an effort to have him consider his position in the hope that he might assist me in my investigation of these matters, and also assist the police in their investigation of these matters.”

He denied threatening him or intentionally bullying Mitchell.

Elliott has repeated his view that professional standards records had been improperly altered or destroyed.

He held the view “based on my review of files that the diocese, including the yellow envelopes, that was evident by the way those files presented. There were documents that appeared to be missing or had been tampered with, and also I formed that view based on intelligence and information that had come to my attention”.

Elliott has just answered questions flowing from his notes in the “Yellow Envelopes Report”.

Elliott’s report says that lawyer Robert Caddies provided certain advice, in a document “saying that the file should be destroyed”.

Elliott says the document was written by Caddies. The document will be tendered to the royal commission.

Mr McMahon for former Newcastle Lord Mayor John McNaughton is questioning Elliott about concerns he raised with Elliott in 2010 about the 2005 professional standards ordinance.

McMahon: “Do you accept from me that the content of those emails indicates Mr McNaughton in early 2010 was concerned with the process in regards to the professional standards ordinance of 2005 and the professional standards committee and how all this operated within the diocese?”

Elliott: “Yes, I think his concerns to what he perceived as a lack of support for respondents.”

Ms Gerace for disgraced former registrar Peter Mitchell is questioning Elliott.

He has confirmed he told victim CKA it was his belief the register had been fabricated.

Elliott said he relied on other information, including from a discussion with former archivist Tim Mawson and a letter written by solicitor Keith Allen to Bishop Roger Herft expressing concern about documents produced under subpoena during the trial of priest CKC.

Gerace has asked Elliott if he told CKA in words that Peter Mitchell and Keith Allen had been overheard discussing that they had beaten CKA in court by altering the register.

Gerace: “Do you think it is appropriate in those circumstances where there has been no testing of either the fact that the conversation occurred, nor the connection to CKC, for you to tell a third party that you believe Mr Mitchell has been involved in a very serious fraud or corrupt conduct where it has not been tested?”

Elliott: “Yes, because it assisted me by performing part of my investigation. I relied heavily on CKA and his input about those proceedings and about matters that related to him. So in sharing that information with him, it was able to assist him to provide me with additional information and context around my investigation of those matters.”

12.10pm

Lachlan Gyles for Bishop Greg Thompson is asking questions of Michael Elliott.

Gyles has asked if there were a group of parishioners who supported Graeme Lawrence and others after the professional standards board recommendations in December, 2010.

Gyles: “Was it your observation that that group of persons in the period leading up to the decision that Bishop Farran ultimately made was seeking to exert that influence in favour of Lawrence?”

Elliott: “Yes.”

Elliott has told the royal commission the influential group made things difficult for Bishop Farran after he made the decision to defrock Lawrence.

The royal commission has a copy of a letter dated 13 April, 2016, written by the “influential group” to the Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies.

Elliott said the “influential group” names included names on a list he prepared for Bishop Farran some time ago.

In his statement Elliott notes: “It has become clear to me that this conduct (a high level interference) was part of the collective organisational response to my success in achieving the mandate I had set for myself, which was largely about addressing issues around child sexual abuse within the church. I have the work challenging and frustrating yet rewarding.”

Elliott has told the royal commission the bishop has “no influence on what matters I investigate, other than to potentially refer matters to me”.

Elliott has told the royal commission that Bishop Greg Thompson asked him to prepare the “Yellow Envelopes Report”.

11.26am  

The royal commission has adjourned for the morning tea break.

10.00am

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.

Diocese professional standards director Michael Elliott will give evidence from this morning, after disgraced former registrar Peter Mitchell was questioned all day Wednesday.

Mr Elliott has already featured at an earlier public hearing when the royal commission looked at how the Anglican Church responded to child sex allegations involving the church’s North Coast Children’s Home at Lismore.

It appears that Mr Elliott’s baptism of fire with “how things were done” within the Anglican Church – or at least how things were done by some powerful people within the church – related to allegations put to him by adults who were abused as children in the home.

The earlier hearing featured appalling responses from the church to people like Tommy Campion, who championed the case for former children’s home residents, before Mr Elliott took up his position and changes occurred.

It is clear from evidence so far in this, the 42nd public hearing of the royal commission, looking at the Newcastle Anglican diocese’s responses to child sex allegations over decades, that Mr Elliott came up against some very powerful figures in trying to investigate those allegations.

10.09am

Newcastle Anglican diocese professional standards director Michael Elliott.

Newcastle Anglican diocese professional standards director Michael Elliott.

The royal commission resumes. Michael Elliott takes the oath.

Elliott was appointed to the position in January 2009 on a part time basis, and full time from May 2010.

Elliott was a part time case worker at the Catholic diocese of Newcastle in 2008, and a police officer before that. Elliott operated under the Newcastle diocese professional standards ordinance, 2005, which flowed from a national church framework established in 2004. The diocese also adopted a Faithfulness in Service document, which was a code of conduct for clergy.

The 2005 action also established a professional standards committee that considered allegations against clergy which, if serious, could be referred to a professional standards board.

From 2005 the Newcastle system operated on an information-based, rather than a complaint-based system. An information-based system meant Elliott and the committee did not require a formal written complaint to investigate matters.

Counsel-assisting the royal commissioner, Naomi Sharp, is questioning Elliott about diocese processes after he started.

The 2005 ordinance defines “examinable conduct” and includes in its ambit “the fitness of a church worker, whether temporarily or permanently, to hold a particular or any office, licence or position of responsibility in the church or to be or remain in holy orders or in the employment of a church body”.

In 2009 and 2010 the diocese held professional standards hearings involving priests John Gumbley and COJ, which related to allegations involving adult women, and not children.

Elliott has agreed there was “some concern” in the diocese about the processes relating to both men.

Both hearings were held in-camera.

Professor Patrick Parkinson completed a report on the hearings for the then Bishop Brian Farran, dated September 2010, because of the concerns.

In his findings Parkinson said the Gumbley matter “was handled appropriately overall”.

He said the decision led to some criticism of the bishop and the process but he was not aware of the detail of the criticism. Parkinson criticised the process adopted in the COJ investigation.

“The investigation in the end ranged too widely, for too long, and at too great an expense to the diocese,” Parkinson said.

Elliott appointed a third person to do the investigation. It cost $34,000 and took nine months.

Parkinson concluded: “This matter was not handled as well as it might have been. However COJ needs to take a lot of personal responsibility for the fact that it took nine months and so much money to resolve.”

Elliott has just confirmed that after the Gumbley and COJ matters, questions arose within some quarters of the diocese about the validity of his appointment. There were moves to change the professional standards framework after those matters.

Defrocked Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence

Defrocked Newcastle Dean Graeme Lawrence

Sharp: “Had this move commenced before allegations were brought to your attention regarding Graeme Lawrence and others, or after those allegations?”

Elliott: “After.”

Elliott said he received allegations from CKH about Graeme Lawrence, Andrew Duncan, Bruce Hoare, Greg Goyette and Graeme Sturt on 7 October 2009 and reported them immediately to police. Police investigated and asked Elliott to put a church investigation on hold.

On August 2, 2010 police advised Elliott they would not be charging the men. Elliott launched a church investigation.

Elliott is being shown a copy of a letter sent to Graeme Lawrence on August 11, 2010, outlining allegations against him relating to CKH, described in the document as being 16 years old in 1981, and offences alleged to have occurred in the Griffith area and Newcastle between 1981 and 1985.

Elliott obtained a legal opinion from Garth Blake, SC, who advised there was a reasonable prospect the board would regard the conduct as “sufficiently serious to bear upon the fitness of four of the respondents to continue in the ministry” – the clergy Lawrence, Duncan, Hoare and Sturt.

The professional standards committee voted to refer the matter to the professional standards board on October 28, 2010, relating to Lawrence, Sturt, Duncan and Goyette. The board recommended that the bishop depose – defrock – Lawrence, Sturt and Duncan, and ban teacher Goyette from any activities with a formal role in the church.

Lawrence and Sturt appealed to the NSW Supreme Court that they had been denied procedural fairness, and that the board process was unfair and biased. On 27 April, 2012 Justice Sakkar dismissed their application.

The professional standards board subsequently recommended, in July, 2012, that Bruce Hoare be deposed as well.

Elliott is now being questioned about a meeting between himself, survivor CKH and Bishop Brian Farran about a meeting in September 2012.

Sharp has just called for a file note from business manager John Cleary to be produced.

Elliott said Cleary told him Farran had come up with an alternative course of action, involving a suspension from ministry for a period of time as an alternative.

Justice Peter McClellan: “And Mr Cleary was concerned that he was being required to participate in implementing the decision, is that the case?”

Elliott: “That’s correct. And he didn’t support that and he told Bishop Farran that he wouldn’t assist him because he was required to formally sign off” on it.

Elliott has just told the royal commission that Bishop Farran stood aside Cleary for one day, and he “would be appointing Bishop Peter Stuart to act in place of Mr Cleary”.

Elliott: “For one day he stood aside Mr Cleary from his role and I understand he licensed Stuart to perform that role for the purpose of signing off on those prohibition orders.”

We are back to the meeting between Elliott and Farran and CKH in September 2012.

Elliott told the royal commission Farran said he intended to depose – defrock – Duncan and possibly Hoare, but he would not depose Lawrence or Sturt, and he had prohibition orders to that effect.

Sharp: “Did Bishop Farran explain to you why he did not propose to follow the board’s recommendations in relation to Lawrence and Sturt?”

Elliott: “No, he never discussed that.”

Bishop Peter Stuart

Bishop Peter Stuart

CKH asked Farran to take a different course. Elliott also asked Farran to take a different course.

Sharp: “Is it right that Bishop Farran then left the meeting ot make a telephone call?”

Elliott: “Yes. He broke down in tears and then left the building and said he needed to make a telephone call.”

Sharp: “And then did he return?”

Elliott: “Yes.”

There were changes to the professional standards ordinance in 2012, requiring that the professional standards board’s decision would be in private rather than in public, with the complainant only allowed to be there with the respondent’s permission.

Elliott has told the royal commission that Bishop Farran told him in December 2010 he was not happy finding out the professional standards board’s recommendation via the media or a phone call.

Elliott has told the royal commission he objected to the changes made in the ordinance requiring abuse victims to seek the permission of their abuser, the clergyman, because he felt it would be “a significantly abusive process for a complainant who may be a victim of sexual abuse to have to seek the consent of their abuser to be present to hear the findings and recommendations of the case”.

Elliott has told the royal commission of a conversation with Bishop Peter Stuart, who talked about amending the ordinance to make it a complaints-based professional standards system rather than an information-based system.

In 2015 Assistant Bishop Peter Stuart proposed repealing the controversial section about the reporting of board findings and recommendations.

Elliott is now being questioned about the brown envelopes containing information about misconduct allegations involving clergy.

Sharp: “When did you first become aware of the existence of these brown envelopes?”

Elliott: “Within a short period of me commencing in my role (in 2009), Bishop Brian Farran handed those envelopes to me.”

Elliott has told the royal commission that he was given 36 envelopes.

Bishop Brian Farran

Bishop Brian Farran

Justice Peter McClellan is running through the envelopes, saying the earliest allegations dated from the 1990s.

Elliott is being questioned about a document that appears to be an index of names “I assumed had related to complaints, and some of those names had obviously been transferred”.

It includes a line saying “In small envelopes in front of this black book”.

Elliott said he had made extensive searches for the black book and “small envelopes” referred to in the index, with no success.

Sharp: “You have only located the yellow envelopes, but you haven’t located the small envelopes referred to in this document?”

When did you first become aware of the existence of these brown envelopes?

Counsel assisting Naomi Sharp

Elliott: “No, that’s right, and I also haven’t located any of the files that are listed that were not put into a brown envelope which, I think, totals around 73.”

Day seven wrap up:

Within a short period of me commencing in my role (in 2009), Bishop Brian Farran handed those envelopes to me.

Professional standards director Michael Elliott

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

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

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