A former colleague of convicted paedophile Jonathan Lord has told an inquiry he “groomed” his co-workers to disguise the fact he was abusing boys at a childcare centre.
Lord is serving a minimum six-year jail term for abusing 12 boys while he worked at a YMCA childcare centre at Caringbah in Sydney’s south.
Erin Turner worked with Lord between 2010 and 2011 and is now the outbound manager for the organisation Camp America.
Ms Turner has told the Royal Commission into child abuse that Lord would often be seen with children sitting on his lap, but she responded by shaking her head and discussing the issue later.
She also told the hearing he deliberately befriended the staff as part of his strategy.
“I think at the time I never thought grooming could be possible towards adults,” she said.
“Looking back now, I definitely felt that he groomed me to gain my trust to not see anything that he was doing was inappropriate or suspicious.”
The hearing was told it was common for children to sit on the laps of childcare centre staff.
“Children would come up and sit on your laps all the time,” Ms Turner said.
“It’s quite hard to sort of monitor that every single day.”
Lord was regularly seen with the same group of young boys, but Ms Turner did not view that as suspicious.
“Half of me still thinks not much of it. Little kids look up to their leaders,” she said.
Dismissed from US YMCA summer camp
Camp America is itself under the microscope as part of the inquiry.
The organisation based in the inner-Sydney suburb of Darlinghurst is responsible for selecting and placing Australians in US summer camps.
Lord worked as a “camp counsellor” in 2009 at the YMCA Silver Beach camp in Jamesville, Virginia, but he was soon dismissed.
A “situation log” entry dated July 8, 2009 reveals that a fellow staff member at the camp found Lord in a cabin with the lights off and emerging from the bathroom with the boy.
This “questionable behaviour” was acted upon at the camp and Lord travelled back to Australia.
He applied for a job in Sydney about a month later, saying in his resume that he wanted to work with children in an environment “where there are no walls or boundaries”.
Ms Turner has told the hearing that statement in itself should have been a “red flag”, but the question remains as to why her organisation never followed up Lord’s behaviour at the camp.
Counsel representing YMCA NSW, Gregory Sirtes SC, says Lord’s dismissal “and the circumstances surrounding it” were never reported by Camp America.
When the allegations against Lord surfaced at Caringbah, YMCA NSW says it acted immediately by standing him down and contacting all staff involved.
But the organisation says it never received an international reference from the camp.
Ms Turner was not employed by Camp America at the time Lord was dismissed from his job in the United States.
During her time working with him, Lord confessed that he had been sent home from the camp.
Ms Turner has told the inquiry that did not cause her concern because staff were regularly fired from US summer camps.
“It could be they broke curfew, they kept turning up late to activities,” she said.
“It could have been a variety and it’s quite common for a lot of staff to be fired.
“Also, the camp directors don’t have to pay every staff member, so they save money.”