Evidence jury heard before Neerkol child sex claim verdict
A FORMER Neerkol employee accused of child sex abuse dating back 59 years today walked free from court after a three-day trial for charges involving one complainant.
Kevin Leslie Baker, 80, was found not guilty of charges by a jury in Gladstone District Court that heard evidence about alleged repeat child sex abuse incidents at the St Joseph's Neerkol orphanage 25kms west of Rockhampton and St Brigid's Hostel in Rockhampton over a seven-year period in the 1960s.
Mr Baker's charges were seven counts of rape, one deprivation of liberty, seven indecent assault counts and two counts of carnal knowledge against the order of nature.
Defence barrister Simon Lewis said the allegations were "horrifying".
The court heard anyone named that was involved in some way in the alleged offences and complaints made in the offending period were now deceased including Father John Anderson who allegedly rubbed the complainant's belly when "the devil was growing inside".
The only live witness, other than the complainant and Mr Baker, to testify this week was a counsellor the complainant sought treatment from in the 1990s.
The court heard Mr Baker, who grew up at Neerkol after being born out of wedlock, was discharged from the orphanage when he turned 18 in 1957 and secured a baker's apprenticeship with Blannings Bakery in Rockhampton.
He lived at the Commercial Hotel between 1957 and 1960, and lodged with one family and at another house between 1960 and 1964. Mr Baker returned to live at Neerkol in 1964 to work in the bakehouse and carry out other jobs. He stayed at Neerkol until he married in 1974.
The complainant arrived at Neerkol in 1961 with siblings and alleged Mr Baker committed offences starting February 1961 when he visited friends at the orphanage.
Mr Baker said all the locations the complainant referred to in her testimony about alleged offences were "out of bounds" to the children.
Mr Baker, who took the stand during the trial, said he only had a bicycle in those days and admitted he had visited his friends at Neerkol on occasions, but not often due to work commitments and the distance he would need to cycle to visit.
Under cross examination, Mr Baker admitted he had visited the orphanage for three nights in a row when one of his friends got sick with influenza and the nuns asked him to help run errands and deliveries. He used his friend's car to do these errands.
Crown prosecutor Nigel Rees said the complainant alleged the catalyst for the alleged abuse was when the woman was 10 and saw Mr Baker allegedly raping a boy in the bakehouse in 1961.
The court heard it was alleged this was witnessed through the windows of the bakehouse and photographs shown to the jury showed the bakehouse had frosted glass windows.
Mr Baker said that never happened, he didn't visit the bakehouse during his visits between 1961-1964 and he did not know the complainant of the alleged offences when he was living at Neerkol or visiting.
He said the bakehouse's windows would be shut during the baking times in the early hours of the morning and he didn't go to the bakehouse at any other time.
The complainant alleged she reported what she saw in the bakehouse to Mother Superior who, in response, slapped her and sent her to the church to pray.
Mr Rees said the complainant alleged Mr Baker approached her the next day and told her she was going to "pay" for what she did.
He said it was alleged Mr Baker had a broom handle in his hand when he approached her and took her to a nearby tree, across the paddock.
Mr Rees said it was alleged Mr Baker pulled the girl's dress off and her bloomers down before sexually abusing her.
He said the complainant alleged she reported the incident to Mother Superior, who again slapped her and this time called her a "liar and a trouble maker" and sent her to church to pray.
Mr Rees said the complainant returned to her mother's care later that year and told her family about the alleged abuse, which resulted in her being taken to Alma St police station and talking with a Sergeant Thomas Nolan.
The court heard Sgt Nolan was stationed at the Alma St station between July 1961 and 1964, but there were no records of the alleged visit by the complainant and family.
Mr Rees said it was alleged Sgt Nolan told the complainant she was all right now and to move on.
He said it was also alleged the complaint was taken to the 1960s equivalent of the Child Safety Department to lodge a complaint but one worker suggested the abuser was her father.
The complainant's father had died in August 1960.
Another suggested she was making up the abuse to avoid being returned to Neerkol.
The complainant was returned to Neerkol and claimed further sexual abuse took place.
She alleged "the devil grew in her belly" and "it was purple when the nuns took it out" before her 15th birthday.
The court heard there were no records of the complainant ever being pregnant while in the care of Neerkol, nor giving birth at the age of 14.
She also alleged Mr Baker pushed her onto sacks of flour in the bakehouse on one occasion and raped her, and other alleged rape offences took place in his room in the men's quarters and St Brigid's Hostel where she was sent when "the devil was growing in her belly".
Mr Baker told the jury he did visit St Brigid's to pick up food scraps for the pigs at Neerkol, which took 10-15 minutes and he did not enter the building at any time during this visits, which was where the complainant said one of the rapes occurred.
One of the most 'horrific' allegations involved another male Neerkol employ, who was intoxicated, grabbing the complainant and taking her to the pump house away from the main buildings of the orphanage.
The complainant claimed this man and two others - including Mr Baker - stripped her naked, tied her to a cross and raped her. She also alleged Mr Baker placed a glass bottle inside her and it broke, causing blood to run down her leg.
Mr Lewis said: "you would think that would give cause to some horrific injuries".
The complainant alleged when she was released, she ran screaming for Mother Superior, naked, from the pump house to the convent to report the incident.
She claimed she was taken somewhere where she was injected with a substance and she woke up in the worker's quarters, told to pack her bags and was transported to a psychiatric facility.
The court heard there was evidence the complainant was committed to a psychiatric facility in 1968, but no records to back the allegations of being tied to the cross, being raped or the glass bottle claims.
A counsellor of the complainant's testified during the trial that the complainant told her of the cross rape incident in a phone call conversation in 1999, but had never heard of the "devil in her belly" allegation. She said if she had been told of the devil in the belly, it would have been in her notes.
Mr Lewis, in his closing address to the jury, said the 69- year-old complainant, despite giving birth to children, still believed today she had the devil growing in her stomach.
"In your life experience you come across people who believe they are telling you something they believe is true but … it becomes apparent it is not true," he said.
Mr Lewis said the first time some of these allegations "came to light" was when the complainant made a statement to police in 1997 - 36 years after the alleged incidents.
Mr Rees said the reason for the delays in revealing the allegations was due to the complainant's lack of trust in authorities after being slapped by Mother Superior, sent to pray, told she was lying, to have her allegations dismissed by a police officer and accused of making it up.
"During confession to Father Anderson, she tells him what happened to her," he said.
"Again she is chastised by Mother Superior for telling lies. The nuns were always telling her she was a liar and had an overactive imagination.
"She was told she should never speak ill of a priest or she would burn in hell."
Mr Rees said she did not tell nurses at the hospital of the abuse "out of fear of receiving the shock treatment".
The court heard the cross rape incident was revealed at the Royal Commission in 2016, but the "devil in the belly" allegation was revealed later.
Mr Lewis said it was hard to believe that in the 1960s a 14- year-old girl did not know she was pregnant and that pregnancy was the result of sex.
"They knew how to stop pregnancies in the 1800s," he said.
"Can you really accept, beyond a reasonable doubt, that what this lady said happened over 50 years ago actually happened?"
Neerkol was run by the Sisters of Mercy. It was built in 1885 to accommodate children transferred from St Joseph's Orphanage, Bucasia. Over 4,000 boys and girls lived at Neerkol throughout its years of operation, including child migrants from Britain. It closed in 1978 when the children were transferred to Family Group Homes.