A paedophile old boy was able to spend time with a highly vulnerable foster child on the grounds of Brisbane’s St Joseph’s Nudgee College in 1992, contradicting claims the man was banned from the school at the time.
The ABC recently revealed Nudgee College old boy Dennis Norman Douglas, who was later convicted of multiple child abuse offenses, had an association with the college’s former headmaster Brother Stephen David McLaughlin in the 1990s.
Lawyers for McLaughlin, who was principal of the school from 1988 to 1993, said when their client became aware of Douglas’ visits to the school in about 1991, a directive was issued to ban him from the campus.
But copies of diaries kept by Douglas and obtained by police, reveal the old boy boasted of visiting the school on a specific day more than a year later in December 1992 and spending hours interacting with boarders including a vulnerable foster child.
The ABC has located the foster child who confirmed contact with Douglas through the school.
In the diary entry, Douglas, who was then in his 20s, writes that at 2:36pm on December 3, 1992, he drove to Nudgee College.
“Br McLaughlin was quit (sic) busy to see me and I also tried to see Mr D Gough (then a teacher at the school) and no luck,” he wrote.
“I then went to the toilet and then I went to the car and at the same time I made a phone call at the car… a boy named [name redacted] came up to talk to me.
“It was weird. Anyway we walked around to the old chapel, we went to have a look inside. He enjoyed our talk etc.”
Douglas then wrote that he continued to walk around the school and spoke to “kids” and boarders from Papua New Guinea.
He said he and the boy went back to his car where he allowed the youth to make a phone call on the car phone.
“I then left [name redacted] at 5:37pm and drove home.”
The former foster child, who was a boarder at the school, told the ABC he did not specifically recall the meeting on the school grounds in December 1992, but he does remember being taken away by Douglas on a trip at a later date.
The man said Douglas had taken him to visit a farm owned by the Douglas family at Reesville, about 100 kilometers north of Brisbane near Maleny.
The case raises questions about the practice of sending vulnerable foster children to St Joseph’s Nudgee College and what oversight the then Families Department had of their care.
McLaughlin boasted in 1996 of having personally acted as a foster carer to up to 40 vulnerable children some of whom were wards of the state.
The Children’s Department confirmed that in the 1990s, the then Families Department had given McLaughlin foster care responsibilities despite him never being formally assessed as a foster carer.
In this role McLaughlin was given permission as an approved person to care for children away from the school, a department spokesperson said.
A spokesperson for the Children’s Department said legislation prevents the department from providing any information about a child who was in the care of the department.
The spokesperson did say however that boarding school was a placement option for children known to the department under a variety of circumstances, sometimes initiated by family, foster carers or the department.
“As a boarder, a child in foster care had other arrangements for school holidays, such as staying with a foster carer or family,” the spokesperson said.
“The boarding school contacted the department as guardian for any matters about the young person’s care and the department would have met the child’s care expenses.”
The former principal McLaughlin was this year convicted of abusing a 12-year-old child in 2015. The child had no connection to Nudgee College.
His lawyers have said that in early 1992 their clients, and some college staff and parents, instigated a program to provide education for needy families and disadvantaged children through the school.
They said pursuant to the requirements of the Family Services Department, McLaughlin was nominated as the temporary on-site foster care nominee for some students, a role he undertook for approximately three months.
“Our client had nothing to do with the selection of students under the program or indeed the daily life and ongoing care of those chosen under the program,” the lawyers said.
“At no time did any student from the program make any allegations of wrongdoing against our client.”
His lawyers said their client found it deplorable to link or associate him in any way with the many shameful acts which Douglas has been convicted of.
The ABC has obtained a recording of a phone call made in December 1997 between McLaughlin and Douglas, where the pair discuss their interactions and how McLaughlin had loaned Douglas money.
At the time Douglas was a self-confessed child abuser having pleaded guilty to abusing a young boy in 1994.
McLaughlin’s lawyers said their client did not know until about 1998 that Douglas had pleaded guilty to child abuse four years earlier.
Douglas was last year released from jail after serving time for child abuse offenses unrelated to Nudgee College.
State Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman unsuccessfully tried to block his release under the Dangerous Prisoners Sex Offender Act.
McLaughlin’s lawyers said their client has suffered ill health and is in the process of appealing his conviction for the 2015 indecent dealing charges.
Nudgee College says it discontinued the program that provided schooling for the foster children many years ago and those who oversaw the program are no longer involved with the school.
The school has declined to provide any further details about how the program worked.
A spokesman for Nudgee College said the college acknowledges the bravery and courage of those who have come forward to tell their stories of this period.
“We continue to encourage anyone with information about allegations raised in the ABC reporting to contact Queensland police,” the spokesman said.
“We continue to do all we can to create an environment in which everyone at the college can feel safe. We follow strict protocols around child protection.”