40 THREATEN TO SUE OVER CHURCH HOME ABUSE
By WILL JACKSON
MORE than 40 former wards of the North Coast Children's Home have joined Richard 'Tommy' Campion's campaign for compensation from the Anglican Church. Brisbane lawyer Simon Harrison said his firm Nicol Robinson Halletts was preparing its case and would write to the church in mid-July to outline its position. "We'll proceed with legal action in September if negotiations don't pan out," he said.
Mr Campion last year claimed he was sexually, physically and mentally abused during his time at the home between 1949 and 1962 while Matron Ada Martin was in charge.
He said the abuse against him stopped in 1960 when the late Jean O'Neill took over the home.
Other residents, including Ballina's Phil Witchard, have come forward to passionately defend Miss O'Neill, the church and the home's reputation.
However, while most of Mr Harrison's clients were residents of the home before 1960, he said there were several who claimed to have been physically and mentally abused by Miss O'Neill.
Mr Harrison said he had a video which substantiated these claims.
The video, shot at a reunion in the 1980s, features Miss O'Niell joking that a pony whip she kept in the house had frequent use, Mr Harrison said.
The Anglican Church was responsible for the home and had a duty of care to its residents, he said.
Mr Harrison said some of the perpetrators of abuse at the home could still be alive and his firm was looking at initiating criminal proceedings.
He said Mr Witchard's claims that some of Mr Harrison's clients were conducting a 'money grab' were potentially libelous.
He added that some of his clients had also received 'hate mail' after coming forward.
Reverend Pat Comben, Diocese of Grafton registrar, said because the matter had gone to lawyers the church was constrained in what it could say.
He said he was waiting for details on the basis of legal proceedings and particulars of what abuse people claimed to have suffered.
He said he would rather have seen the matters dealt with in a non-confrontational way that could have resulted in an assistance or support package.
Any claims of abuse had to be considered in the light of different views on corporal punishment in previous eras, he said, and the church was 'not sure' that it ever owned the home.
However, he said if a child was whipped that was 'clearly unacceptable'.
The home allegedly remained under the control of the church until 1986, when it became an autonomous non-government organisation. In 2002, the home changed its name to Child and Adolescent Specialist Program and Accommodation (CASPA).
Mr Witchard declined to comment further on the issue yesterday.