Thursday, February 14, 2008

Mornington 92

In 1989, Norman and Alison Shulver ran the Mornington Child Care Centre and Nursery School, in Parwan Crescent, Mornington, a bayside suburb of Victoria, Australia. In November of that year a four year old girl who attended the centre told her mother that Norman had played with her vagina and bottom. Her mother reported this to the authorities. Norman Shulver denied the allegations and this was found by the police to be sufficient grounds for dropping the matter.

Similar allegations emerged in 1992. One child told her parents that Norman “did pee-pee” in her mouth. Another boy told his father that “Norman put sticks up my bottom”. The Monash University Sexual Assault Centre determined that a number of children who attended the centre had been penetrated by a blunt instrument.

The subsequent investigation by the police Child Exploitation Unit determined that 24 children alleged abuse while attending the Centre. The State Government Office of Preschool and Child Care inquiry heard evidence that in 1992 while attending the centre, a number of children had been taken in a car to a nearby house, undressed by adults, photographed and videotaped while naked, forced to play sexual games, and urinated and defecated upon by adults. The adults, it was heard, wore masks and “funny clothes” including police uniforms.

Ann Sherry, who chaired the 1992 inquiry by the Office of Preschool and Child Care found that the Shulvers were not appropriate people to be running a child care centre, having at least allowed the abuse to take place. She further found that “There is a substantial amount of evidence that the person or persons who actually committed the acts of abuse may have included Norman Shulver.”

In 1994, the Crimes Compensation Tribunal awarded damages of up to $20,000 to each of the 30 applicants over this case. Clearly neither this tribunal nor the Office of Preschool and Child Care inquiry felt there was any doubt that serious sexual abuse of children aged 3 and 4 had taken place. The medical evidence alone seems quite conclusive. Despite this, Victoria Police failed to press charges against the Shulvers or anyone else.

Were it not for the alleged involvement of members of the Victoria Police, this case would undoubtedly have been aggressively investigated, charges laid and the Shulvers and/or any other perpetrators would have received significant prison sentences. That this did not happen, and that members of the police force were implicated, is surely no coincidence.

What did happen, other than the deregistration of the Shulvers as child care centre proprietors, is nothing. Over the intervening 16 years, police have neglected to interview witnesses, and have apparently destroyed evidence. Witnesses have been harassed and had death threats made against them and their families.

That police had mishandled the investigation become so clear that in 2002, Commissioner Christine Nixon referred relevant complaints to the Victorian Ombudsman Dr. Barry Perry. This did little to stem interference with the investigation, and it continued to be plagued with serious problems.

The most glaring examples centre on two pieces of crucial evidence. The first is the identity of the owner of the house in Mornington at which the abuse was alleged to have occurred – namely that it was registered to a member of Victoria Police. The second is a videotape of the abuse being carried out by men in police unifroms.

Information about both of these items was delivered to an investigator from the Ethical Standards Department. The investigator claimed not to have received them and not have spoken to the relevant witnesses. He persisted in this deception until his telephone records were accessed and proved he was lying. The videotape subsequently went missing from the police evidence locker.

The Ombudsman’s report was damning about the investigation. The ESD investigator was removed from the investigation. Two detectives were told they were going to be transferred to other squads, but after a threat of industrial action by the Police Union, they were not, and remained in the sexual crimes squad.

Shortly before he was due to report his findings, Barry Perry suffered serious health complications and resigned from the post. Mainstream media reported that he suffered a stroke while walking alone on a friend’s country property one afternoon, and was not reported missing until 9pm that night. Corruption investigator Raymond Hoser contends that the Ombudsman was bashed and left for dead.

The report subsequently issued by his successor in 2004 was described by The Age newspaper as “damning” and alleged serious misconduct on the part of police investigators. Despite its finding that police investigators had compromised the case by failing to obtain statements and evidence, by having mishandled what evidence they were given, and probably by lying under oath, Assistant Commissioner for crime Simon Overland took solace in the fact that the investigation did not find police force members categorically guilty of corruption or criminal misconduct. In 2005 he categorised the findings against the two officers as “minor failings” and no further action was taken against them. The Ombudsman’s report was not made public, ostensibly for fear it would identify the victims.

Clearly the State Government has failed to properly investigate and prosecute well-substantiated cases of child sexual abuse on a large scale. Cases in which the police themselves seem to be implicated. The only conclusion a reasonable person can draw from this is that there is something decidedly rotten in the state of Victoria. There are people who are at large in Australian society today, apparently including members of the Victoria Police, who are free to to sexually abuse children with impunity. What picture of the world are those 24 children left with? How can their parents explain to them what happened and how it was dealt with?

Until the perpetrators of this crime and those who have obstructed its investigation are brought to justice, no-one can have faith in the Victorian Government, its judiciary or its police force. Police Commissioner Christine Nixon, and Premier John Brumby should be called to account for this grave miscarriage of justice.

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