an autodidact meets a dilettante…

‘Rise above yourself and grasp the world’ Archimedes – attribution

Posts Tagged ‘foster caring

my battle for justice – contacting the DPP, among other things

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good question

The prosecution invokes nolle prosequi or dismissal when it has decided to discontinue a prosecution or part of it. Lawyers and judges refer to the charges “nol prossed” or dismissed. The prosecution may nol pross all charges against the defendant or only some.

Micah Schwartzbach, US Attorney

Today has been another of those down days, brooding and empty. But reading just the first couple of pages of Robert Sapolsky’s book Behave has somehow heartened me, by making me aware that I’m one of the lucky ones. Okay, I’ve lost my job, temporarily but probably permanently, and the injustice I’m suffering under is hardly life-threatening, and there are compensations, such as time to read and write, and being a lot more comfortably off then many others in many other countries. The damage to my reputation is minimal, since I don’t have much of a reputation or public profile, I’m just an obscure dilettante whose reclusive personality has made me a failure in friendship, in love, and in all the things that matter to the worldly world. But I miss my job and my students terribly.

Today is March 1, the first official day of autumn, and it’s coming up for 18 weeks since I lodged an appeal to have the decision of the DCSI* reviewed. No decision has yet been reached. I’ve contacted the Office of the Ombudsman, which has been on the case and has since sent me two emails, the last one today informing me that my ‘application is still being actively worked on’. I’m left to wonder what this activity entails. Are they looking at documents I don’t have access to, are they in contact with the DPP*, are they poring over the relevant Act*, are they in discussion or dispute over the danger of setting precedents, are they worrying about flouting directives from higher-ups?

I’ve also contacted the Legal Services Commission, for the third time, and they were very sympathetic and helpful, as always, and offered to send a letter to DCSI on their letterhead to help move things along. They also suggested I write to the DPP about the matter. I wrote to the DPP today, but I’m not particularly happy with my letter.

I need to write, and think, like a lawyer.

In the course of today’s activity I looked again at some of the documents I’ve collected, and they repay closer legal and analytic scrutiny. For example, here is the last paragraph of a letter sent to me on November 24 last year by the director of the DCSI Screening Unit, Kelly Tattersall:

… the Screening Unit noted the vulnerability of the child and whilst there appears to be some concern around the credibility of the allegations, the Screening Unit considered, that in undertaking a risk assessment where there are strong factors of concern, decision-makers should err on the side of caution. Further, that the Screening Unit’s paramount consideration(s)  are the rights, interests and wellbeing of children and their protection from harm.

There are three points I will make here.

First, the ‘vulnerability of the child’, was noted. What does this mean? Yes, the child was vulnerable – that’s why I took the role of his foster-carer. All of the kids in my care were vulnerable. So were all the under-eighteens I taught at college. This boy was no more, or less, vulnerable than any of the others. What point is being made here? Surely the point at issue here is the veracity of the boy’s story, not his vulnerability.

Second – ‘there appears to be some concern around the credibility of the allegations’. This made me perk up. Of course there was a great deal of concern about the boy’s credibility – I knew he was lying, I’m pretty sure my lawyer knew he was lying, and I’m very sure that the Anglicare social worker who was monitoring the placement knew he was lying, because she knew him, and she knew me. However, there was nothing in writing, as far as I knew, that cast doubt on his credibility, so how did DCSI know about this concern about his credibility (apart from my own commentary about the case)? Did they have documents from the police, for example, to that effect? If so, I want them.

Third, ‘where there are strong factors of concern, decision-makers should err on the side of caution’. The ‘strong factor of concern’ arises only on the assumption that the allegation is true, and again the reaction here is to the extraordinarily serious nature of the allegation, not to its veracity. And that is disastrous to any system of justice. As to erring on the side of caution, no no no. To err means to commit an error, to get it wrong. What decision-makers should be striving to do is to get it right. You shouldn’t be erring on any side.

I don’t know if that’s a brilliant legal analysis or not, but it definitely makes me feel better.

Another important point should be noted here. The screening unit may well argue that it isn’t expected that they be as rigorous as the law; that this isn’t their job. They might argue that it’s their job only to make recommendations based on possibility, or plausible possibility of harm to children. Organisations and employers are not obliged to follow those recommendations. But this would be disingenuous, in my view. Virtually all large employers apply the screening unit’s findings as a matter of policy, and DCSI is well aware of this. Furthermore, these screenings have a wider application than ever before, and an adverse finding will preclude the recipients from a very wide range of employment options, including most voluntary positions, for example in Community Centres, Parks and Recreation facilities, any place where children are likely to be present. These screening decisions are treated as law, for better or worse, and so need to be made with as much rigour as legal decisions. To do less would be unjust.

Another legal issue I need to clarify is the matter of nolle prosequi. When I’ve talked to the Legal Services Commission about this finding, they don’t seem to distinguish between nolle prosequi and dismissal. This is clearly a central issue. This is what the Screening Unit Director wrote in the above-mentioned letter:

The Screening Unit noted the matter was referred to a higher court, thus the magistrates court found a case to answer. Ultimately, despite notations indicating ‘serious concerns’ regarding the veracity of the allegations by the DPP, the matter resulted in a nolle prosequi outcome, which is not indicative of innocence or guilt, however the Screening Unit noted the matter was not dismissed or acquitted.

So here’s where the Screening Unit got the idea of ‘serious concerns’, though I don’t have that in any of my paperwork. But clearly the fact that it went to a higher court was an issue for the Unit. As well as the nolle prosequi finding, though I’ve read somewhere – and I might be wrong – that once it goes to a higher court, nolle prosequi is the best outcome a defendant can hope for (apart from acquittal, which was out of the question given the cost, the elaborate court proceedings etc).

So if this is true, the DPP must be blamed for allowing this matter to reach a higher court without having gathered evidence or even checking out the boy’s story. I might also blame the magistrate for saying I had a case to answer, though it appears he was directed entirely by the DPP.

So now to the boy’s story, or stories. I’ve gone through this before, but there’s some new material I hadn’t noticed before, which bears on the case.

According to a police statement written at about the time of my arrest, the boy ‘states at about 3.30 pm on Thursday 23rd September 2004, returned home from school..’ and it then goes on to describe how I raped him in the toilet of my home. It’s interesting to note that an exact date is given, though the boy didn’t tell his story until six months later. Further in the statement comes this: ‘Accused left toilet and victim went into bedroom and locked door’. As I’ve noted before, the phrase ‘locked door’, indicating that there was a lock on the bedroom door, were the only words in the whole statement that could be independently verified police. However the police made no attempt to verify this claim until after my case was taken to a higher court. Verification of this claim should have been a prerequisite for taking the case to a higher court. Let me make this clear: it doesn’t require anyone to be AN EFFING SHERLOCK HOLMES. It simply requires due diligence.

There were no locks on the boy’s bedroom door or any other bedroom doors. The boy didn’t notice this because he never felt unsafe. So he guessed, and lied. The police eventually came to my house, checked the doors, and the case was dismissed: nolle prosequi.

I should point out that, in a court appearance of 27 February 2006, this brief charge was made: that I, ‘between the 1st day of September 2004 and the 30th day of September 2004… had anal sexual intercourse with… without his consent.’ The charge was rape. And then in another court appearance dated May 3 2006, again the time period is 1-30 September, but this time I’m apparently charged with 2 counts of rape. Apparently the boy doubled down on his story, perhaps under pressure, apparently learning or guessing that the more horrific his tale, the more likely it would be believed. But it should also be noted that the claim that he was raped twice over a month makes it even more unlikely that he wouldn’t notice that there was no lock on his bedroom door. And there’s also ththee question  – since there was no lock on the door, why would I choose to attack him in the toilet? A fondness for the sordid and unclean?

Anyway, enough of this unpleasantness. The case against me is ridiculous. There are bigger fish to fry. Why exactly is this ‘rigourous’ screening being instituted? There doesn’t seem to be an increase in child abuse, so who’s driving this? And who’s suffering, beside myself? This is a can of worms that needs to be opened up. Sunlight is always the best disinfectant. We need to shine some of this light on the DCSI, and the government that’s driving this grand attempt to protect children, as male teachers leave the profession in droves.

I also want to focus on foster carers, those largely unsung heroes, and the lack of protection they get from jittery religious organisations, who have cornered this market. There’s more than one scandal going on here.



Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2018 at 10:43 pm

The battle for justice, part 1: some background to the case

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A prosecution should not proceed if there is no reasonable prospect of a conviction being secured. This basic criterion is the cornerstone of the uniform prosecution policy adopted in Australia.

from ‘The decision to prosecute’, in ‘Statement of prosecution policy and guidelines’, Director of Public Prosecutions, South Australia, October 2014

not this movie, unfortunately

I rarely focus on myself on this blog, but now I feel I have to. Today I lost my job because of something that happened to me about 12 years ago. So the next I don’t know how many posts will be devoted to my battle for justice, in the hope that it may help others in a similar situation. Of course I also find that writing is my best solace, as well as my best weapon. I have no financial resources to speak of, all I have is a certain amount of nous.

Between 2003-4 and 2010 I was a foster carer, under the aegis of Anglicare. Over that period I fostered six boys, with naturally varying success.

So why did I become a foster carer? I simply saw an ad on a volunteering website. I was being pushed to do some work, which I’ve always been reluctant to do, being basically a reclusive bookworm who loves to read history, science, everything that helps to understand what humans are, where they came from, where they’re going. And I hate when work interferes with that! But having come from what for me was a rather toxic family background, trying to shut myself from screaming fights between parents, and being accused by my mother, the dominant parent, of being a sneak and a liar, and ‘just like your father’ (her worst insult), and being physically and mentally abused by both parents (though never sexually), and having run away from home regularly in my teen years, I imagined that, as a survivor, I could offer something which might work for at least some of these kids  – a hands-off, non-bullying environment which would be more equal in terms of power than many foster-care situations. Call me naive…

Mostly, this approach worked. I did have to get heavy now and then of course, but not for long, so I always managed to stay on good terms with my foster-kids, as I have more recently with my students. This was even the case with the lad who accused me of raping him.

Let me describe the case as briefly as possible. A fifteen-year old boy was in my care in September 2005. He was much more of a handful than the previous two boys I’d looked after, and when I lost my temper with him during a school holiday trip in Victor Harbour, he took it out on me by claiming to his mother, with whom he spent his weekends, that I’d punched him on the back of the head. This was false, but his mother took the matter to the police, and the boy was immediately taken out of my care.

After an internal review conducted by Anglicare I was cleared of any wrongdoing, to their satisfaction at least, and another boy was placed in my care. Then, sometime in early 2006, this boy was secretly whisked out of my care, and I was informed by Anglicare that a serious allegation had been made against me. I was in shock, naturally thinking this new boy had also accused me of some kind of violence, but I was finally informed by the Anglicare social worker who’d been overseeing my placements that ‘it isn’t your new foster – kid’. The penny dropped more or less immediately that it was the same boy who’d accused me of hitting him. This boy, as far as I was aware, was now living happily with his mum.

I was left in limbo for some time, but eventually I received a message from the police to go to the Port Adelaide police station. There I was asked to sit down in an office with two police officers, and informed that I was under arrest for rape.

I was somewhat taken aback haha, and I don’t recall much of the conversation after that, but I think it went on for a long time. I do remember one key question: if the boy’s lying, why would he make such an allegation? I had no answer: I was unable to think clearly, given the situation. But later that night, after my release on bail, an answer came to me, which might just be the right one. When the boy was in my care, the plan was to reconcile him with his mother, who put him in care in the first place because she couldn’t cope with him. I knew his mother, as I met her every weekend for handover. She was highly strung and nervous, and it seemed likely she was again having trouble coping with full-time care. Quite plausibly, she was threatening to return him to foster care, which he wouldn’t have wanted. She allowed him to smoke, she allowed him to hang out with his mates, and her environment was familiar to him. To him, I would’ve seemed boringly bookish and unadventurous. What’s more, his claim that I’d hit him had worked perfectly for him, getting him exactly where he wanted. Why not shut the door on foster care forever, by making the most extreme claim?

I don’t really know if this sounds preposterous to an impartial reader, but this answer to the riddle struck me as in keeping with what I knew of the boy’s thinking, and it was backed up by a remark he made to me, which soon came back to haunt me. He said ‘my mum’s friend told me that all foster carers are child molesters…’. It was the kind of offhand remark he’d often make, but it was particularly striking in light of something I was told later by my lawyer. Apparently, the boy didn’t tell his mother directly that I’d raped him, he’d told a friend of his mother, who’d then told her.

So, after the sleepless night following my arrest, I felt confident that I knew the answer to the key police question. I typed it up and took it forthwith to the Port Adelaide station (I didn’t trust the mail). How utterly naive of me to think they’d be grateful, or interested! I received no response.

So I obtained a lawyer through legal aid, or the Legal Services Commission. At the time I was dirt poor: I’d received a stipend as a foster carer, but that had stopped. Otherwise I worked occasionally as a community worker or English language teacher, mostly in a voluntary role. From the moment I was charged I spent many a sleepless night imagining my days in court, heroically representing myself of course, exposing contradictions and confabulations, citing my spotless record, my abhorrence of violence of all kinds, etc, etc. So I was a bit miffed when my lawyer told me to sit tight and do nothing, say nothing, and to leave everything to him. Standard procedure, presumably. The case passed from hearing to hearing (I don’t know if that’s the word – at least there were several court appearances), over a period of more than a year, and every time I expected it to be dismissed, since I knew there was no evidence. It had to be dismissed, there could be no other possibility. The only reason it had become a court matter in the first place, it seemed to me, was the absolute enormity of the allegation. But how could this possibly be justified? But I had to admit, the boy had, more or less accidentally, stumbled on the perfect crime to accuse me of – a crime committed months before, where there could be no visible evidence one way or another… It was all very nerve-wracking. And I was very annoyed at the fact that the DPP (the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions) seemed to have different lawyers representing it at every court appearance, and mostly they behaved as if they’d only been handed the brief minutes before.

Finally I arrived at the lowest point so far – an arraignment. I didn’t know this (my last) appearance would be an arraignment and I didn’t know what that was. I just expected yet another appearance with a handful of yawning court officials and lawyers in attendance. Instead I found a packed courtroom.

Arraignment is a formal reading of a criminal charging document in the presence of the defendant to inform the defendant of the charges against him or her. In response to arraignment, the accused is expected to enter a plea.

In Australia, arraignment is the first of eleven stages in a criminal trial, and involves the clerk of the court reading out the indictment. (WIKIPEDIA)

The reason the courtroom was packed is that several arraignments are processed in the same courtroom on the same day, so there were several accused there with their friends and families. Unfortunately, I was solo. On my turn, I was taken out to the holding cells and brought in – some kind of ceremonial – to the dock. The charge was read out (I’d already been given the ‘details’ by the lawyer, so I barely listened to it) and I was asked to plead, and the judge told the court, to my utter amazement, that I was adjudged to have a case to answer.

So it was perhaps even more amazing that, a week or two after that appearance, the case was dropped.



Written by stewart henderson

November 11, 2017 at 7:34 pm