Town should apologise to abuse victims, inquiry told
29th June 2012
Updated 2nd July 2012
The residents of a country town where a hostel warden sexually abused boys for 14 years ignored the criminal behaviour because they were more concerned about the reputation of their community, an inquiry examining the abuse has been told.
The lawyer representing 25 alleged victims of former St Andrew's Hostel warden Dennis McKenna, John Hammond, said the Katanning community's response to the abuse was "shameful" – now and when it was occurring between 1977 and 1990.
He called on the town to apologise to McKenna's victims.
McKenna is serving his second jail term for abusing 11 students and is facing 66 further charges.
An inquiry examining how he was able to offend for so long is concluding today. Counsel assisting the inquiry Phil Urquhart has recommended 24 adverse findings be made against 11 people.
Mr Hammond said countless community members and people in authority knew of the abuse but covered it up to protect the town.
"There was a culture of not wanting to bring anything bad to that town, or a culture of a cover-up," Mr Hammond said.
"It was very clear from the witnesses that have given evidence such as [a] barmaid ... right through to Councillor Ainslie Evans and indeed the reverend of the town, Mr John Taylor, that they all heard stories over a long period of time about Mr McKenna's behaviour.
"And the stories weren't weak, they weren't tepid. They were serious stories.
"There was a cover-up at the town of Katanning that was dark and [the victims] were hidden behind that shroud of veil over Katanning."
Mr Hammond said had someone pushed the issue earlier than 1990 many young men would not have become victims.
"This has been a very dark chapter in the history of WA," he said.
During his evidence to the inquiry McKenna said it was probably his good reputation in the community that allowed him to continue to offend for so long.
Mr Hammond said half of the Katanning community still did not accept that the abuse had occurred.
He called on the town to apologise to the victims.
"The Shire of Katanning needs to get its head out of the sand, acknowledge what happened and apologise without reservation to every one of those victims," he said.
"Their behaviour is shameful."
He said it was "mind boggling" that Councillor Evans, who has been a member of the Katanning council since 1983, said the sexual abuse had been as great a tragedy to the town as the loss of a train service.
Mr Hammond urged the head of the inquiry, former Supreme Court justice Peter Blaxell, to recommend in his final report that the state considers a compensation payout for victims.
Ex-gratia payments of between $6000 to $20,000 already made to some victims did not cover their medical expenses, let alone income lost due to interrupted education and drug and alcohol issues.
"The people who failed to pass on the information are able to go about their business ... but the people who suffered at the hands of McKenna in the most hideous and vile manner, they live with that until the days of their death," Mr Hammond said.
He praised the bravery of three men who were the first to report they had been abused by McKenna and several community members who came forward early on to say they did raise their concerns with authorities in the 1980s.
"[Their public complaints] gave enormous impetus to the state government convening the inquiry," Mr Hammond said.
Mr Blaxell said he accepted the number of victims could potentially double.
He is due to make his findings by July 18.
The inquiry continues today.