State of NSW resisted accepting liability for abuse at Bethcar childrenâ€™s home despite one manager being jailed for 30 years
A girl who was physically and sexually abused from the age of five until 15 by her foster parents at a home for Indigenous children was also lied to and convinced to be so terrified of her biological parents she would not speak to them, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard.
Kathleen Biles and two of her siblings were made wards of the state and sent to live at the Bethcar Childrenâ€™s Home in Brewarrina in remote northern NSW more than 30 years ago.
The state-funded home was run by Burt and Edith Gordon and their son-in-law Colin Gibson from 1969 to 1989.
The royal commission is examining how complaints of abuse at the home were handled, with an emphasis on the â€œprotractedâ€ litigation procedure when civil proceedings were brought by fifteen former residents of Bethcar against the State.
Biles told the public hearing in Sydney on Wednesday that she had learned from her department of child services (Docs) file that her mother had tried to get the children back, but her father thought they were better cared for at Bethcar, and that he â€œtrustedâ€ the foster parents, Burt and Edith Gordon.
Gibson was jailed in 2007 on two separate sentences of 12 years and 18 years for offences against a number of girls.
Biles told the commission her first memory of abuse was at the age of five when she went to the Gordonsâ€™ to complain of a headache.
â€œBefore Edith could say anything, Burt held up the blanket he was under and said words to the effect â€˜come under the blanket with daddy. Daddy will make it betterâ€™,â€ said Biles.
Burt Gordon then sexually assaulted her. Edith Gordon seemed â€œcompletely indifferentâ€, said Biles. When she started crying, Edith Gordon said â€œwhatâ€™s wrong with you you naughty little girlâ€ and Burt Gordon invited her under the blanket again.
Edith Gordon told her to go to Burt Gordon but she said no, so the woman physically beat her.
â€œLater I learned from experience that Edith would respond like this every time we told her that we had been abused,â€ said Biles.
The children were also told that their parents did not want them. Burt Gordon would tell the children their parents were evil and alcoholic, and threatened to send the children back to them if they misbehaved, said Biles.
â€œI was terrified of my biological parents because of what he said,â€ she told the hearing.
When her parents came to see her at school one day and called out to her, she was too scared to go to them.
Biles detailed numerous horrific instances of the decade-long abuse which she said made her feel â€œviolatedâ€ and like â€œnowhere was safe, even if other people were thereâ€.
No case was taken against Burt Gordon, who was old and unwell at the time of the investigation. He has since died.
The royal commission is hearing from a number of witnesses, including six former residents of Bethcar.
Another five-year-old girl was raped and then flogged when she was late for dinner after she was placed in Bethcar at the age of two or three. The abuse began soon after. The girl, given the pseudonym AIQ for legal reasons, told no one until she was in her late 30s.
Children who went to police and NSW welfare officers with allegations of abuse were returned to the home where they were beaten, the commission heard.
As the hearing began in Sydney, the commission was told the state of NSW had for years resisted accepting liability for any abuse and disputed for four years that it had occurred â€“ even after Gibson was jailed.
When 13 former residents came forward in 2008 to sue the state, the Crown Solicitorâ€™s office employed solicitor Evangelos Manollaras and junior counsel Patrick Saidi to handle the case.
Counsel assisting the commission, David Lloyd, said Manollaras doubted the abuse had happened and at one stage wrote â€œ... in fact, Iâ€™m having some difficulty in having understanding how a jury convicted Gibsonâ€.
There were years of delay and legal tactics. Saidi was highly critical of the Womenâ€™s Legal Service, which was supporting some victims, the inquiry was told.
Lloyd also said that when the plaintiffs requested an acknowledgment and a modest amount of money, Mallollaras expressed the view that â€œfirstly I donâ€™t ever recall the state apologising for anything, secondly as to the sexual assaults, I have a very strong doubt that anything occurred at all in most casesâ€.
In one email Manollaras raised the â€œpossibility of undertaking some surveillanceâ€ on at least some of the plaintiffs and suggested an initial compensation budget of $20,000-$30,000.
The case was settled at the beginning of 2014, with each plaintiff getting $107,142 with the state to pay legal costs.
The state had spent almost $1m defending it.
The hearing continues.