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'Network Of Child Abusers' In Church Group Preyed On Boys During Camping Trips

They preyed on boys in a youth society on camping and fishing trips.

13/02/2017 12:01 PM AEDT | Updated 13/02/2017 2:07 PM AEDT

An Anglican Church-founded youth group was used by a "network of sexual perpetrators" who knew of each other's offending while they abused children for more than a decade, a new report says.

The Child Sex Abuse Royal Commission report found the Church of England's Boys' Society's (CEBS) only formal response to the sex abuse was to strip awards given to certain offenders, while the body's national council decided against an apology in 2009.

The report also found a culture developed in the CEBS -- a Scout-like activity group -- in which perpetrators had easy access and opportunities to sexually abuse boys in their care.

The abuse often occurred on youth camps, sailing and fishing trips and overnight stays organised by the CEBS, which the Commission found was was left to operate autonomously by the Anglican Church in the 1970s and 1980s.

How the Church of England Boys Society responded to abuse

  • The National Council's only formal response to child sexual offending was to revoke the CEBS national awards given to certain offenders;
  • The council considered making a formal apology over child sexual abuse offending in 2008 and 2009 but decided against it;
  • The Anglican Dioceses of Tasmania held three independent inquiries in three states, but there was no investigation by the church into whether there was an organised network of offenders within CEBS;
  • This is despite the fact that those dioceses and the national Anglican Church knew about child sexual abuse at CEBS and the relationship between offenders.

Monday's report follows the Commission's investigation into the response of the CEBS and the Anglican Dioceses of Tasmania, Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney to allegations of child sexual abuse.

The Commission examined the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse by convicted pedophiles Louis Daniels, Garth Hawkins, Simon Jacobs and John Elliot and alleged pedophile, Robert Brandenburg.

Daniels told the commission the camps provided an "opportunity" to those attracted to children and when asked to describe the culture of CEBS, said "a boys' society, unless it is carefully managed, is a sitting duck" to potential offenders.

The report found systemic issues inside the Church of England Boys' Society:

  • Child sexual abuse being treated as one-off offences or isolated incidents of aberrant behaviour
  • Historically, allegations of child sexual abuse not being reported to the police either at all or in a timely way
  • Limited information-sharing between the dioceses about allegations of child sexual abuse
  • A lack of child protection policies and procedures within CEBS
  • A lack of consistent record-keeping about complaints in CEBS at a national and state level
  • Minimisation of the offending
  • A focus on protecting the reputation of the church, dioceses, CEBS and individual clergy
  • Links not being made at a national level in the Anglican Church regarding the possibility of a network of perpetrators within CEBS.

The Anglican Dioceses of Tasmania, Adelaide and Brisbane had three separate independent inquiries into child sexual abuse.

But no investigation or inquiry conducted by the church looked into whether there was an organised network of offenders or a culture that facilitated child sexual abuse within CEBS.

This is despite the fact that those dioceses and the national Anglican Church knew about child sexual abuse at CEBS and the relationship between offenders, the Commission said.

"There is evidence that a number of survivors were abused by multiple perpetrators, many of whom were involved in CEBS or the church," the report said in part.

"Of these survivors, all gave evidence that they believed they were either shared by their abusers or that there was, at the very least, awareness, understanding or acknowledgment between their abusers of each other's conduct.

"We find that there were networks of perpetrators in CEBS who had knowledge of each other's sexual offending against boys and who facilitated the sexual abuse of boys in or associated with CEBS."

Brandenburg, who led the Church of England Boys society for nearly 40 years, was accused of abusing up to 200 young boys. He committed suicide in 1999 before facing court.

Of Brandenberg the commission wrote: "It is apparent that Brandenburg was involved in sexual abuse together with what seems to have been a coterie of other senior persons within CEBS, both within South Australia and during interstate activities.

"Such was the scope of those activities, most of which involved serious criminal offending, that it seems well nigh incredible that his conduct did not apparently become known to persons in authority within either CEBS or the Church."

In the 1990s and 2000s CEBS associates in the Anglican Dioceses of Tasmania, Sydney and Brisbane were convicted of child sexual abuse offences:

  • Louis Daniels, a member of the clergy in the Diocese of Tasmania;
  • Garth Hawkins, a member of the clergy in the Diocese of Tasmania;
  • John Elliot, a lay CEBS leader in the Dioceses of Tasmania and Brisbane and later a priest in the Diocese of Brisbane;
  • Simon Jacobs, a lay CEBS leader in the Diocese of Sydney;
  • Robert Brandenburg, a lay CEBS leader in the Diocese of Adelaide, was charged with a large number of child sexual abuse offences. He took his own life before the charges came to trial.

Another, John Elliot, was convicted of child sexual abuse offences against five boys, all aged between 10 and 13. The charges included 10 counts of sodomy and 18 counts of indecently dealing with boys under 14.

In 2002, Elliot pleaded guilty to offences against two other boys.

During the recent hearings, former Governor General Sir Peter Hollingworth apologised to a survivor of Elliott's abuse and said he manifestly failed in his response to an abuse claim while he was Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane in the 1990s.

Hollingworth apologised to the survivor's family and said he had not understood the long-term repercussions of abuse.

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