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Convicting a Newcastle priest

Sep 26, 2019 • 18m27s

When former Anglican dean Graeme Lawrence was found guilty of child sexual abuse, his victim, Ben Giggins, made the unusual decision to request that the court name him publicly.

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Convicting a Newcastle priest

88 • Sep 26, 2019

Convicting a Newcastle priest

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

When Anglican priest Graeme Lawrence was found guilty of child sexual abuse, his victim, Ben Giggins, made the unusual decision to request that the court name him. Anne Manne on the case that convicted a key figure in the Newcastle clergy.

A warning, this episode contains detailed descriptions of sexual assault.

[Theme music ends]

[Music starts]

Archival tape — Unidentified male newsreader 1:

“Good evening. He was one of the highest ranking members of the Anglican church in Newcastle, but former dean Graeme Lawrence is facing child sex charges.”

Archival tape — Unidentified male newsreader 2:

“Lawrence was arrested this morning by Strike Force Arinya detectives at his Newcastle home and taken to nearby Waratah police station. There he was formally charged with four counts of aggravated sexual assault and one of aggravated indecent assault. Police claim the alleged offences were committed upon a 15 year old boy in 1991 in the NSW Hunter Valley.

ELIZABETH:

Anne, the thing that I wanted to start with was July 26 this year. What is it that Ben Giggins did on that day?

ANNE:

Well, he sat in court with the rest of the people who’d been attending the trial. And he heard that the person who'd accused of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault was convicted; that he'd been found guilty by Judge Tim Goldman SC. So it was an extraordinary day for him.

ELIZABETH:

Anne Manne is a writer. She covered this case in the latest issue of The Monthly.

ANNE:

So, the second thing that happened on the 26th of July was that Ben Giggins decided that he would have his name used rather than be kept private because I think it was a way of overturning all the years of secrecy. And it was a way of taking back the power.

ELIZABETH:

And who is Ben Giggins? Who is he as a person?

ANNE:

Ben Giggins is someone who's extremely straightforward, shy, very scrupulously honest about his evidence. Someone who was shattered by that crime and was really only encouraged to come forward by the great cultural shift that was represented by the Royal Commission; that is that, after the Royal Commission, which ran over five years and especially the case in Newcastle for Ben where he was living, encouraged people to understand exactly what had happened to them, that they were part of a regime where child sexual abuse had gone on to the most horrific degree.

ELIZABETH:

Anne tell me how Ben Giggins came to be in that courtroom where Lawrence was found guilty.

ANNE:

Well the crime that happened in 1991. So in 2016 the Royal Commission came to Newcastle and one of the people who was clearly an absolutely central figure in the cover up and as a perpetrator was Graeme Lawrence. So Ben Giggins by this point is also a father and he decided to start disclosing. He first disclosed to his wife, to his mother and to various friends and he then went to the police; they investigated for a year and then the trial was held over the month of June and then the judgement was on the 26th of July.

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ELIZABETH:

And who is Graeme Lawrence?

Archival tape — Unidentified male priest:

“The City of Newcastle and the churches of the Hunter Valley, welcome you to this cathedral church. And we hope that this act of worship will encourage you, and the community at large, as we seek to rebuild and recreate our shattered lives.”

ANNE:

He was originally one of the most influential people in the Anglican Church. He rose up through the ranks and to the very senior rank of Dean of the cathedral.

Archival tape — Unidentified male priest with congregation participating:

“...Lord, you alone are the source of life, may your life giving spirit flow through us...”

ANNE:

He was more even than that in that many people thought that he was more powerful than the bishops who are technically above him. And it was clear from the testimony before the Royal Commission that they often had deferred to him or been influenced by him. He was a Freeman of the City and he'd received an Order of Australia and he even got a Citizen of the Year Award.
He was very charismatic, quite tall. He had a very confident, polished way of speaking which gave the aura of authority. He used to be quite a formidable figure to other church men. He used to frighten them, in many ways. He was a bully. And he had a huge following, so people loved Graeme Lawrence; they loved him so much that when the victims of Lawrence started coming forward and saying what had happened, they refused to believe it. And in fact there was a huge amount of pushback against any efforts that were made by bishops to clean up the act in Newcastle and to expose what had been going on.

Archival tape — Unidentified male:

“...and I realise that there will be people in Newcastle who will be extraordinarily angry with me, there will either be people, of course, that will be very supportive but unfortunately this has happened and the processes must be followed and people must realise that the church has to be a safe place.”

[Music starts]

ANNE:

Seeing this supporters in the court case, even at this point, was extraordinary. But actually important to understand what it is that they are holding on to.

ELIZABETH:

What is that, do you think?

ANNE:

It's that their world is completely ruptured, if it is true. This is someone they've believed in, it's someone who they've worshipped in a way, it’s that someone who has convinced them of his rectitude, that they've depended upon in some psychological way. So the people who come forward then seem, to them, like vandals in the house of God: they're wreckers, human wreckers.

ELIZABETH:

Was the Anglican Church aware of abuse committed by Lawrence prior to Ben Giggins bringing his case?

ANNE:

Yes. There were complaints but it was never followed up. A teenager called CKH in the Royal Commission. He’d began as a 14 year old being abused by one priest and in his statement to the Royal Commission CKH said that he was certain that Graeme Lawrence knew about it and rather then report it to the higher Anglican authorities or perhaps most importantly report it to the police, he actually took it as an opportunity to sexually abuse the teenager himself. Lawrence denied any wrongdoing at the Royal Commission, just a stonewall kind of denial. But the key point CKH said at the Royal Commission was that they had decided, these much older men, to kind of, take over his sexual development. He was a very powerful and eloquent speaker. I think he gave one of the best descriptions of grooming that I've heard in listening to the entire Royal Commission: you could see how subtle and insidious each move was.

ELIZABETH:

Anne, you’ve been covering a number of these cases in Newcastle; there’s a relative concentration of them there. Why do you think that is?

ANNE:

Well I think, a couple of things. I think it's very similar to Ballarat, in that there's a strong class element. The boys who were abused were often working class kids and they often didn't have the families when they were abused by articulate middle class priests, they didn't have that wealth, the kinds of educated families, to be able to take up the case
and really fight it.

ELIZABETH:

And why do you think this sort of abuse happens?

ANNE:

Well that's really the great mystery.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

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ELIZABETH:

Anne you've been following stories of child sex abuse within the Newcastle Anglican dioceses. What happened to Ben Diggins specifically? What happened in his case?

ANNE:

At some point in 1991, Benjamin Giggins wasn't entirely clear on the date, he had gone to the cathedral because he was involved in a youth band and the youth band did various gigs around Newcastle. His mother drove him to the cathedral and was sitting waiting while he helped to set up all the speakers and do the sound and the lights. The then Dean, Graeme Lawrence, came up to him and asked him to come for a little walk and showed him some of the artefacts and photographs in the cathedral and then said: would you like to come back later to the Deanery where some other youth are gathering. And Ben went and asked his mother, he was 15 at the time, and so he asked her permission, she said fine. She thought that the Dean was a very important figure in the diocese and she thought it would be safe because there are other youth there. So they went to the Deanery. When he opened the door, the place was empty so Ben felt the first fear. Then he was taken down a couple of corridors and they went into a smallish room. He saw a chair, a bed and a wardrobe, he was quite detailed. Then Lawrence gestured to some pictures on the wall, there were pictures of naked boys. He said: do you like them? And Ben said no. And then Lawrence came behind Ben Giggins and pushed up his T-shirt over his head, so that he was immobilized effectively with his arms and couldn't see.

ELIZABETH:

We were going to move through this section in a little less detail...

ANNE:

And why do you do that?

ELIZABETH:

Ummm, I suppose we have to make a choice about how much of this we think people need to hear.

ANNE:

Mmmmm. Yes. Oh well this is sort of arguable but the reason I write, is partly to give a very precise sense of the horror of the crime. So if I say aggravated sexual assault it doesn't sound great but you don't really know exactly what's happened. I think it's really important that (pauses) really important for the survivors of sexual… ummm child sexual abuse that we don't shy away from knowing the details, the specifics. I thought it was something that the Royal Commission did really well because instead of hearing, rather vague terms, you hear exactly what happened and then you feel the full horror of it.

ELIZABETH:

Ok, so what did happen in the Deanery that day?

ANNE:

Graeme Lawrence pushed him onto all fours and then he first fondled him and said: do you like that. Ben said: no and told him to stop very clearly. And then Ben was trying to inch away but he raped him. So he penetrated him, anal rape and then Ben at a certain point was able to inch forward enough to get up and push his T-shirt back and rush away. At which point, Dean Lawrence said, you know, “I don't think you can say what happened here because no one would believe you, I’m the Dean”.
Giggins was frightened that if he disclosed to anyone they wouldn't believe him and if he disclosed to the band that he would be ostracized and that's actually, I think, a very common fear among survivors.

ELIZABETH:

You were in court during Lawrence's trial. What was Graeme Lawrence like throughout that?

ANNE:

He came across as a really arrogant man. He was very big noting. So, for example, there was a question about the pictures of naked boys on the wall and he claimed that there were no such pictures. And he would name drop, so he said: how could I have such pictures when I entertained the Governor, the Governor General, Prime Minister John Howard and so on. So, there was a lot of appealing, even in his physical gestures as he looked to the judge as if to say, we are of the same kind of status. So, he constantly referenced a sense of self-importance, a grandiosity. His most favourite adjective was ‘great’: the great traditions of the cathedral, the great music, the great church music, everything was prefaced by the adjective great. He was trying to give a sense that this lowly, suburban youth band would never have been at the cathedral when clearly, according to the church records it actually had played there.
He was also very capable of dissembling. One of the key points of the defence was the 1989 earthquake had prevented Lawrence from even being in the Deanery, he is no longer living there because the damage was so great. The defence said that he had moved and he did actually move at a certain point. However it was not clear that this crime did not occur when, whether he was living there, and indeed, as Judge Gartelmann said, an empty Deanery provides the ideal opportunity for a sexual assault to take place. Lawrence wildly exaggerated the damage done to the Deanery. At one point he flung his arms open about a meter saying that was how wide the gaps were in the walls and yet he was also claiming that he lived there for a year and a half, which was highly unlikely. So there was an element of hyperbole, of exaggeration and that was, I think, how how he not only appeared to me but clearly how he appeared to the judge.

ELIZABETH:

How did Justice Gartelmann describe Lawrence's evidence in his final judgment?

ANNE:

Not credible. Inconsistent. Defiant. So that as soon as Lawrence was challenged I gather, from the summary of Gartelmann, that when Gibbins was challenged, he admitted where he did or didn't know the answer, as did his mother; so they said what they remembered but not more than that. Whereas Lawrence was clearly trying to concoct a case, so he would embellish or was always self-interested in what he said.

It was quite telling when Judge Gartelmann summed up the case that he described Ben as calm, shy and quiet so that the flamboyance of Lawrence, the constant attempt at seeming authoritative was much less credible than someone who just came along and in a very straightforward way told what he remembered. The Judge noticed when Ben Giggins gave evidence apparently he made unconscious gestures as to what happened physically, so he was remembering as he spoke.

ELIZABETH:

How did Newcastle respond to the conviction?

ANNE:

There was great relief. There was a relief amongst other survivors.

[Music starts]

The Mayor immediately came out and said that he would be stripped of his honours, is still waiting for the Order of Australia to be removed. Graeme Lawrence was someone who had held such sway over the City of Newcastle and they'd been such ugliness in the exposure of him as a perpetrator and so much resistance to it. It was partly about protection of the church but as we've seen it was partly about protection of his life practices.

[Music ends]

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[Theme music starts]

ERIK:

Elsewhere in the news:

In the United States, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has commenced a formal inquiry into allegations President Donald Trump sought foreign assistance to damage a political rival. The inquiry is the first step towards impeachment.

And in the UK, the supreme court has ruled that the advice given by the prime minister Boris Johnson to the Queen, to suspend parliament, was “unlawful, void and of no effect”.

7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. I am the show’s editor, Erik Jensen.

We don’t have an episode tomorrow, owing to the public holiday in Victoria. But 7am will be back on Monday, so see you then.

[Theme music ends]

When former Anglican dean Graeme Lawrence was found guilty of child sexual abuse, his victim, Ben Giggins, made the unusual decision to request that the court name him publicly. Anne Manne on the case that convicted a key figure in the Newcastle clergy. A warning, this episode contains detailed descriptions of sexual assault.

Guest: Writer and author Anne Manne.

Background reading:

The Newcastle trial of Graeme Lawrence in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow with Michelle Macklem. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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88: Convicting a Newcastle priest