In its first finding, the royal commission into child sexual abuse has raised concerns about the adequacy of organisations such as Scouts Australia to prevent and report child sexual abuse.
In a damning report published on Friday, the commission found that a former regional head of Scouts Australia NSW was more concerned about the reputation of the organisation than taking effective action against a scout leader reported for child abuse.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has handed down findings from its public inquiry into how pedophile Steve Larkins managed to operate unchecked for almost 20 years, first as a Scout leader and then as the head of the Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Service (HACS).
Larkins was jailed in 2012 for indecent assault of two boys as well as possession of child pornography.
He is due for parole next week.
As well as specific findings the commission identified systemic issues which it will investigate further.
Apart from the adequacy of policies and procedures within organisations such as the Scouts, the commission also raised questions about record-keeping within NSW Police and its consistency with its computerised operational policing system entries.
The commission found that despite standing Larkins down from one Scout troop in 1994 following a complaint, Scouts NSW did not stop him joining another group in the Hunter region where he went on to become a district leader.
Following a further complaint in 1997, Scouts Australia NSW conducted an internal investigation and found there were previous incidents involving Larkins.
The then Scouts regional commissioner, Allan Currie, issued Larkins with an official warning and placed it in his personnel file.
The commission found Mr Currie’s warning was ineffective, as Larkins “was able to be in the company of young scouts with no other adult present”.
It also found that Mr Currie’s actions in relation to Larkins in 1997 “were influenced by his desire to protect the reputation of Scouts Australia NSW”.
The commission also found that NSW Police failed in its handling of an investigation into the 1997 complaint through a combination of inexperience by the investigator and misinformation to the mother of the child who had gone to police.
“There were substantial delays in the police investigation of the alleged offence, so that the Director of Public Prosecutions advice to prosecute was received 12 months after the victim first communicated with police,” the commission found.
The failings on the part of police were factors in the mother and her son deciding not to proceed against Larkins in 1998.
Among the 27 findings is one which points to an error of judgment by the NSW Department of Community Services (DoCS).
The department did assess Larkins to be a risk to children, but sent the assessment to Larkins, rather than to the HACS management committee.
By doing so, DoCS enabled Larkins to “conceal his working with children check assessment (WWCC) from the Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services management committee and employees”.
This meant he kept working there. The commission found the management committee at HACS was inexperienced and did not apply appropriate governance processes.
The committee was also manipulated by Larkins, who nominated appointees, including a relative.
HACS was found to have failed to follow its own procedures when in 2011, Larkins applied to be a foster carer for one boy.
The commission found the DoCS error was compounded by a failure by the Commission for Children and Young People to check Larkins’ representations to them to have the WWCC withdrawn and they “wrongly withdrew it”.