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Damning abuse report to go to every Catholic principal

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The Catholic Church has promised to circulate a royal commission report into a litany of failures at St Ann’s Special School to every Catholic school principal in South Australia.

The sex abuse royal commission yesterday handed down its report, detailing a long string of failures by the South Australian school, the SA Police and the church over their handling of sexual abuse of disabled children.

In March last year the inquiry investigated Adelaide’s St Ann’s Special School and its bus driver, Brian Perkins, who sexually abused intellectually disabled children between 1986 and 1991.

The Vicar General of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide, Father Philip Marshall, and Catholic Education SA Director Helen O’Brien today welcomed the commission report.

In a statement, they said they would circulate the report to all principals. They wanted the principals to “examine the findings and ensure they were complying with policies and practices that have been introduced over the past decade”.

The commission’s report into the case says police failed to issue a warrant for Perkins’ arrest in 1991, despite having information about three prior convictions, the nature of sexual allegations against him and the risk he posed of further sexual offences against children.

Despite police seizing child pornography from Perkins’ in 1993, the photos were not examined.

“The photographs strengthened the case against Mr Perkins in relation to (one victim) and revealed another offence against (another victim), a former St Ann’s student who had been in the care of Mr Perkins,” the report said.

“The failure by SAPOL to fully investigate material seized from Mr Perkins in 1993 contributed to the years of delay in bringing Mr Perkins to trial.”

In 1998 it was discovered Perkins was living in Queensland.

“SAPOL declined to apply to extradite Mr Perkins from Queensland because they were given inaccurate information on the seriousness of the charges and because they failed to give sufficient weight to the strength of the prosecution case against Mr Perkins.”

The Commission also found police failed to inform the broader school community of the sexual allegations against Perkins, despite being aware that other former students with intellectual disabilities may have had contact with him.

St Ann’s principal, Claude Hamam, did not obtain a police clearance check before hiring Perkins, while neither the school nor the Catholic Education Office had established mechanisms in place to conduct police checks at the time.

“Such a police check would likely have disclosed that Mr Perkins had three prior convictions for sexual offences,” the royal commission said.

The commission also found Hamam and the acting principal, Martin Aartsen, did not inform the board of management or board of governors of the allegations against Perkins despite the requirement of the schools constitution to do so.

Hamam also did not inform the director of the Catholic education office.

Nor did the school comply with its own policy requiring volunteers to be supervised by a registered teacher, creating further opportunities for Perkins to sexually abuse children in his care.

The report also found Church parties failed to take action to ensure the matters were fully reported and investigated and that families concerned were informed and children protected.

The archdiocese also failed to follow processes set out in Towards Healing, the Catholic Church’s procedure for responding to complaints of abuse against Catholic Church personnel.

It was also found the payment of “gifts” to former students of St Ann’s did not provide an adequate response for some families.

Despite his location being identified in 1998, it wasn’t until 2002 that Perkins was extradited from Queensland to South Australia.

He died in jail in 2009 while serving 10 years after pleading guilty to sex offences.

– with AAP

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