WARNING 1: THIS STORY IS GRAPHIC AND MAY CAUSE DISTRESS TO READERS
Warning: This story contains images of people who are deceased.
At the base of Mount Misery, developers are turning the site of Australia’s largest child abuse case into a housing estate.
Property searches give only a glimpse of how much money was made by the Catholic order that ran BoysTown, after it sold the land at Beaudesert, west of Brisbane.
Two years ago, just over a third of the site — where the former State funded and licensed boys home once stood — changed hands for $4.4 million.
That sum would not cover the legal fees paid by abuse victims, much less the cost of four decades of abuse.
By 2017, the trustees for the De La Salle Brothers reported paying out almost $27 million in response to 219 credible abuse claims — the highest number against any church institution in Australia, and what a judge called “a Gulag right in our midst”.
And the controversy continues today, with survivors preparing to lodge new claims, arguing they were short-changed by both the Catholic order and the Queensland Government.
A lauded institution
As the last of the large-scale institutions for disadvantaged children in Queensland, BoysTown was once lauded for taking on disadvantaged youth.
TV cameras captured its 1961 opening ceremony featuring a marching band, Catholic dignitaries and hundreds of onlookers.
Wide-eyed boys in jackets and ties unpacked their suitcases and made their beds after shaking hands with Brothers who handed out pocket money.
When ABC cameras returned in 1974, boys rode horses and performed a guitar singalong of This Little Light of Mine, while the director, Brother Finbarr, appealed for more government funding.
Decades later, witnesses recalled him beating boys with a jockey whip.
In 1978, government child-care officers raised concerns about severe beatings of children.
Weaker boys were punished in “Friday night biff ups”, in which bigger boys were forced to keep punching them until the director told them to stop.
Internal documents from BoysTown showed another punishment was the “loss of privilege smokes”.
Staff were encouraged to withhold cigarettes from boys “when the circumstances are appropriate eg. on an outing where the staff member is issuing smokes”.
The provision of tobacco would later prove to make up a sizeable part of some compensation payouts.
It wasn’t until 1997 that an alleged victim approached the De La Salle Brothers with a sexual abuse complaint.
Two years later, the Forde Inquiry found BoysTown was still openly flouting Queensland’s non-binding “practice standards” against violent punishment in licenced residential care facilities.
The same year, Queensland police Taskforce Argos launched a three-year investigation, interviewing 120 staff and residents and charging two men with 48 offences.
But prosecuting child sex abuse cases, particularly on the evidence of witnesses with troubled backgrounds, some with criminal convictions, was difficult.
Neither case went to court.
When it closed in 2001, the BoysTown name was still good enough for the De La Salle Brothers to raise tens of millions of dollars through its famous lotteries, despite an average of two new sex abuse claims appearing each year until 2011.
By today’s standards, the De La Salle Brothers got off cheaply.
In some cases, the victim’s legal guardian — the State of Queensland — got off scot-free.
Of up to 99 alleged sex offenders at BoysTown, only two are known to have been jailed.
And in the aftermath of what was touted as Australia’s largest court action over church abuse, victims say many of them feel let down again by the system that betrayed them as children.
Some have launched new claims in a bid to overturn what they regard as paltry out-of-court settlements, eroded by legal fees.
Others say they were blindsided by the Queensland Government’s role in the settlements.
By coming on board as a respondent, the Government reduced the legal, financial and public exposure for itself and the De La Salle Brothers over BoysTown and shut off other avenues of compensation against the State.
A leading sex abuse compensation lawyer, Ross Koffel, says this was an “extraordinary result” given the State wasn’t a defendant in the lawsuits.
The Queensland department of child safety belatedly began paying into victim’s settlements in 2017 after the Palaszczuk Government followed the recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse and removed time limits on civil claims.
The department has declined to reveal how much taxpayers have paid to settle abuse claims, citing secrecy provisions in the deeds.
But personal injury lawyers have told the ABC there is no legal reason to keep secret the total of those payouts.
More than 1,600 vulnerable children went through BoysTown, including orphans and those in trouble with the law.
As many as a quarter of them have sued for civil damages for abuse.
For many of them, hopes of closure faded with the realisation that the institutions that betrayed them as boys worked against them as men, through a bruising compensation process.
‘There’s no trust’
Roman Campbell says he’s “probably one of the lucky ones”, as he scans a list of fellow former BoysTown residents from the 1980s, detailing dozens of jail stints and suicides.
“The ones that are still alive, if they’re not in jail, they’d have depression, post-traumatic stress and one out of probably 50 would have a good, reasonable standing life,” he says.
Mr Campbell sued the Trustees for the De La Salle Brothers for damages for physical and sexual abuse.
His claim was settled for a confidential amount in 2013.
The Queensland Government ended up on the deed, releasing it from any future claims, but it made no contribution to his payout.
He is among those victims seeking a new settlement.
“No, I wasn’t really satisfied.
“No other boys that I’ve talked to are satisfied.”
Tom, who asked not to be identified, was paid out in 2017 for sexual and physical abuse during a two-month placement at BoysTown around Christmas 1973.
Tom also sued the Catholic order, not the State Government.
But the State ended up on his deed.
And Tom was not in the care of the State when he was sent to BoysTown.
“I was originally making a claim against De La Salle Brothers as the operators of BoysTown, somehow the State of Queensland became joined to this matter and I don’t know how much money the State of Queensland gave me,” he says.
“And yet I’m exonerating the State of Queensland from any future claims that I’m potentially going to make against them … not relating to BoysTown at all.”
Tom only later became a ward of the State when he was placed in the notorious state-run institutions, Westbrook Training Centre and Wilson Youth Hospital.
He’s applied under the national redress scheme for abuse he claims he suffered in those institutions.
But Tom’s BoysTown settlement, which was below average and almost halved by legal fees, has come back to haunt him.
The deed released the State Government from any future claims in relation to Westbrook and Wilson, despite Tom giving no account of that abuse during negotiations over BoysTown.
And under the redress scheme, any monies paid by the State previously could reduce a payout.
Tom provided the ABC with a submission by his current lawyers supporting his redress application, which argues that “the Queensland Government should not have been involved in the applicant’s claim for abuse suffered at BoysTown”.
“Their inclusion in the Deed of Release is unfairly impacting [his] right to redress for the abuse he suffered in Queensland Government institutions.”
Tom says, “there’s no trust towards the Government from any of these men [at BoysTown]“.
“I think the handling of these compensation claims all these years later probably has only compounded it,” he says.
“No one’s talking about going on to a better life. There’s still a lot of anger and bitterness, a lot of questioning over how the State Government came to be involved.”
‘The most horrific case of mass child abuse ever uncovered’
The claims against BoysTown snowballed in 2012 after a high-profile 60 Minutes report that featured Jason Parkinson, a former detective whose Canberra-based firm, Porters Lawyers, had begun suing the Catholic order in “no win, no fee” arrangements.
Then head of the De La Salle order, Brother Ambrose Payne, sent an email days before the broadcast to associates, including a Brother who would later be charged and then acquitted of child sex offences.
“Unfortunately we do expect a program which presents, from the viewpoint of the Brothers, allegations which are extreme and lacking foundation and a most unjust and unfair representation of work carried out in very difficult circumstances of which we have been and continue to be extremely proud,” the email stated.
The following year, Mr Parkinson wrote to victims saying the firm had filed “an extraordinary 180 claims” in Queensland courts.
“Tragically, it is now clear that BoysTown Beaudesert is the most horrific case of systematic and mass child abuse ever uncovered in Australia,” he said.
Mr Parkinson said the order had, “much more to lose … than BoysTown men” by going to court where its “rapists, bashers and abuser’s (sic) crimes” would be detailed.
Last month, he told the ABC his firm had filed 350 claims in all.
It would take until 2017 — 55 years after the first alleged child sex offence at BoysTown — for anyone to be jailed.
Brother Francis Brophy was sentenced to eight years for sexually abusing nine orphans, one under the cover of private guitar lessons.
The following year, teacher Stephen Anthony Gray received 11 years after preying on vulnerable children in their sleep, including a 14-year-old boy he raped.
Gray’s victim, who asked to be identified only as Chris, was among those who were first compensated by the State with as little as $7,000 under the Forde Inquiry redress scheme.
“The amount of money given was a slap in the face. It made me so angry as I went through so much,” Chris told the ABC.
“I tried to commit suicide after this as it broke me.”
Cracks in the lawyer-client relationship
Through taking the financial risk of filing hundreds of lawsuits on “no win, no fee”, Mr Parkinson and Porters Lawyers achieved much higher payouts than the Forde Inquiry.
By 2017, the average payment given to victims had grown to $185,000.
But disenchantment among some clients over the handling of their claims had already boiled over.
In June 2016, Mr Parkinson had a falling out with a key client and threatened to sue him for defamation.
The client was Terry McDaniel, who Mr Parkinson once said deserved the Order of Australia for his advocacy.
“Why he threatened me is I had jumped up and down about a lot of issues, especially my fees,” Mr McDaniel says.
In a letter to Mr McDaniel, Mr Parkinson said, “if anyone defames me, then I would commence the appropriate legal proceedings and ... donate any damages awarded to a charity that works for victims of clergy child abuse.”
“I advised you that I consider my reputation is very valuable as I am, and have acted for, almost one thousand victims of child sex abuse of the Catholic Church.”
Mr McDaniel denied defaming his former lawyer.
He said he had been contacted by a number of other victims who were “complaining about very similar things that I was actually complaining about”.
In 2016, complaints from Mr McDaniel and others were dismissed by the ACT Law Society for lack of substance, because they had signed documents saying they understood the terms.
Mr McDaniel later negotiated his own additional settlement with lawyers for the De La Salle Brothers for inadequate provision of education and the imposition of tobacco.
He says his settlement for the lesser crime of providing cigarettes and a poor curriculum was almost as much as the claim made through Porter Lawyers for physical and sexual abuse.
Mr Parkinson, who engaged his own lawyer after he was approached by the ABC, declined to comment.
When asked by the ABC about whether the Queensland Government knew its behaviour would hamper future claims, the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women said it was “not aware of any request from a BoysTown complainant to detail their share of a payout”.
It declined to say how much the Government had paid in total over BoysTown abuse claims, or whether it would disclose to individual victims.
A spokesman said that “in 2017 the State and trustees of the De La Salle Brothers … settled personal injuries claims by former residents for commercial sums”.
“Each settlement was subject to a Deed of Release by which all parties to the settlement agreed to maintain confidentiality in relation to the amount of the settlement,” he said.
“The deeds of settlement for each of the former BoysTown residents includes certification by their lawyers that they have explained the terms of the deed to their client, and that their client understood the terms of settlement.
“This includes that the State was a party to the settlement.”
‘You need closure’
Lawyer Ross Koffel says his Sydney firm, which is “considered to be one of the leading firms in obtaining larger judgments” is making new claims for numerous BoysTown survivors.
Some, like Roman Campbell, want to overturn previous settlements that were struck before time limits were removed, and which didn’t include claims for poor quality of education and encouraging children to smoke.
“My opinion is lower amounts of compensation were obtained ... [and] nearly all of them did not include any claim for education or smoking,” Mr Koffel says.
“You need to achieve a lump sum which is a suitable compensation, something the client deserves, and you need closure and a satisfaction by the client, so they can move on,” he says.
“Anything less than that, the client is left with the open wound.”
Mr Koffel says the only reason the Queensland Government was included in settlements before 2017, to which they paid nothing, was that “De La Salle, who ran BoysTown, would have sought to close the opportunity of a cross claim”.
This would stop the Government, if it was later sued over the same sexual abuse, from making the Catholic order join it and pay up again.
Lawyer Jason Parkinson told his client Mr McDaniel in 2016 that “the De La Salle Order (or for that matter any defendant) will not allow themselves to be put in that position after they have already paid damages”.
Correspondence last year showed the Catholic order continued to deny liability because an alleged abuse victim was “still the responsibility of the department while a resident at BoysTown”.
Warren Strange, chief executive of Knowmore, a Commonwealth-funded legal service for victims, says BoysTown was a “notorious institution [where] dozens and probably hundreds of young people were abused ... and suffered lifelong damage”.
He says pursuing compensation is “inherently traumatising” and for some survivors, participating in a large civil claim is “not always a positive experience”.
Mr Strange says victims in large court actions against a number of institutions have “felt that they did not have a proper say, or ... that decisions were made, perhaps without reference or full understanding on their part, of what the group was doing”.
But he’s resolute about one thing: “Clients should not, at any point, be surprised about developments in their case.”
In the aftershocks of institutional betrayal on an unprecedented scale, how much more could surprise the men of BoysTown?
*The images in this article of boys who attended the BoysTown facility have been supplied by former residents. The ABC has no information that any of these residents were victims of abuse unless otherwise stated.