Dept's Sect Case 'Eroded' By Errors
Sydney Morning Herald/1992-09-09
BY COL ALLISON
The key witness in The Family sect child-care case conceded yesterday that discrepancies in the accuracy of an interview with a young child eroded confidence in the interviewer.
The magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth, raised the questions of confidence in and the accuracy of part of the case put by the Department of Community Services while the department's formal applicant for care, Miss Pauline Rockley, was being cross-examined about the record of interview of a 12- year-old boy.
The case involves 65 children of the religious sect.
She agreed with the barrister for the children, Mr Mark Trench, that there were significant differences between the handwritten notes of the departmental officer conducting the interview, and her final typed transcript.
Mr Trench noted there were omissions of sections of notes from the transcript and answers had been altered. At no time was the boy quizzed about the major concern of the department - sexual abuse - although it contends that when sect boys turned 12 they were considered mature enough for sex with adult women of the group.
Miss Rockley, the department's Campbelltown manager, agreed with Mr Trench that the interview was "not very helpful" to her, although she stressed "it hasn't made me think the child has not been abused".
The department is seeking care of all 65 children, insisting they have each been sexually abused and brain-washed, though it has "no specific evidence" to prove the allegations and is relying on the testimony of former members of the sect and the literature of the cult, The Children of God, from which the sect evolved.
Large quantities of this material, much of it sexually explicit, some dealing with sex between adults and children, were found in three sect houses in Sydney's Hills district during pre-dawn raids by the department and police on May 15.
The children, who were subsequently released by Mr Forsyth, were extensively interviewed during their week in departmental custody.
When Miss Rockley conceded the record of interview was not very helpful, Mr Forsyth interrupted the examination to ask if she agreed there were some significant discrepancies between the handwritten and typed versions. "Yes, there is," she said.
"Do you agree they have been changed?" the magistrate asked. "They were different," she replied.
"But anyone reading the typed version and not having read the notes would believe the typed one was an accurate form of the interview?" Miss Rockley agreed.
She agreed also that the discrepancies pointed out eroded the confidence in the officer "to some extent".
Mr Forsyth: "Didn't she (the officer) swear in her affidavit that the facts were true and correct?"
Miss Rockley: "Yes, she did."
If it happens in one case, could it not happen in other cases where she did interviews? - Yes.
Mr Trench took Miss Rockley through other records of interview, pointing out discrepancies between the handwritten notes and the finished versions.
He said a five-year-old boy was interviewed by an officer for more than an hour and the record of that conversation was then "constructed from her recollections". Miss Rockley conceded that the officer might not have recorded it word for word.
A 13-year-old girl who told an interviewer that she had not seen her father for three years because he was in Japan, the sect's headquarters, "working on videos", was asked who was the father of her sister, born a month ago.
Mr Trench: "Let's assume he was not the father of (the sister) and quite deliberately so, and this 13-year-old didn't know that. Is it appropriate that this sort of questioning takes place?"
Miss Rockley: "I'm not sure what the interviewer was aiming towards ... she may have had information that many children have different fathers and it is not a secret."
The hearing continues.