It is never too late to tell the police, these victims say

Seven elderly Adelaide men, who were sexually abused as schoolboys by a Catholic priest, have demonstrated that it is never "too late" to report old crimes to the police sexual offences unit.

These seven men were born in the early and mid 1940s. They were sexually abused by Father Albert Davis in their early teens between 1956 and 1960 while they were pupils at Adelaide's Blackfriars Priory School. Broken Rites is supporting these victims in their quest for justice.

Blackfriars Priory School was established in 1953 by the Dominican Fathers (also called the Order of Preachers). The school caters for boys from Year 3 to Year 12.

Originally, in the 1950s, the school's teachers were priests and (being Dominicans) they wore lovely white frocks. In later years, lay teachers gradually joined the school's staff.

These lay teachers included Mr Stephen Stockdale-Hall (whose offences occurred in 1977-89) and Mr Ronald Hopkins (who was at Blackfriars in 1983-91). Beginning in 2004, Stockdale-Hall and Hopkins were publicly exposed as sex-offenders. Finally, in 2007, this scandal led to the exposure of Father Albert Davis — after 50 years.

Before the year 2000, South Australian criminal law made it difficult for that state's police to prosecute sex-offences that occurred in the distant past. However, after about 2000 or so, South Australia fell into line with the other states, making it easier for the South Australian police to prosecute sex offences, even ancient ones. This helped to bring about the undoing of the Blackfriars School criminals.

The background

It is not clear exactly exactly when the Blackfriars Priory School first learned about the abuse by Mr Hopkins or Mr Stockdale-Hall. But according statements in court, one student complained in 1991 about having been sexually abused by Mr Hopkins. On the day that this complaint was made, Hopkins resigned from the school and left South Australia. With Hopkins gone, his sexual abuse at the school remained concealed from the public.

Later, more victims of Hopkins or Stockdale-Hall came forward and some of these evidently complained to the police, not just to the school. Therefore, by early 2004, Sexual Crime Investigation Branch detectives were investigating the school — and this made it likely that the school's problem would eventually become public.

The Blackfriars School went into damage control, wishing to protect its public image. The school consulted a public relations firm (CPR Communications & Public Relations), which issued a media statement on 18 March 2004, saying that the school was "co-operating with the police". The school gave to the police a file on Hopkins that it had possessed since he fled in 1991. According to the Adelaide Advertiser (12 August 2004), the school's Hopkins file included allegations about sexual abuse before his departure in 1991.

The school established "a Blackfriars hotline" (with a toll-free "1800-" number) and invited calls from "current and former students and staff who have any concerns or information [about abuse]".

The school expected that complaints to "the Blackfriars hotline" would be about a lay teacher or two (such as Mr Hopkins or Mr Stockdale-Hall). But, to everyone's surprise, some former students complained to the police about a priest — Father Albert Davis.

Case 1: Mr Stockdale-Hall

As a result of the police investigation in 2004, Stephen John Stockdale-Hall was charged in court with 10 sex offences against nine boys, aged between eight and 16 years, between 1977 and 1989.

According to court evidence, these particular offences started while Stockdale-Hall was a teacher at Blackfriars School and went on for a decade after he resigned when he continued to take students on camping expeditions. [These charged offences were not necessarily Stockdale-Hall's only offences — they were merely the ones that became known by the police.]

Stockdale-Hall encouraged some of his victims to drink alcohol and take drugs and told them the church was wrong to categorise masturbation as a sin.

In the South Australian District Court in December 2005, Stockdale-Hall (then aged 56) pleaded guilty.

In sentencing, Judge Steven Millsteed said the emotional and psychological impact of Stockdale-Hall's behaviour was likely to be life-long for his victims.

Stockdale-Hall was sentenced to 10 years' jail with a non-parole period of eight years.

Case 2: Mr Hopkins

Ronald William Hopkins originally trained to be a Christian Brother but ended up as a lay teacher in Catholic schools. In the South Australian District Court in 2005, Hopkins pleaded guilty to sexually abusing five boys aged between 12 and 16, between 1975 and 1991, firstly while he was a teacher at St Bernadette's Parish School (in an Adelaide suburb called St Helen's) and later at Blackfriars Priory School. The charges included five incidents of unlawful sexual intercourse by a teacher, five of indecent assault and one of gross indecency.

According to statements in court, Hopkins joined Blackfriars as a lay teacher in 1983. He resigned in late 1991 on the day a student made sex-abuse allegations against him.

At a pre-sentence hearing in the Supreme Court in September 2006, the court was told that, after leaving Blackfriars, Hopkins gained employment as a teacher in Victoria. The sentencing judge, Justice John Perry, said he found it "rather disturbing" that Hopkins was able to do this.

[From court proceedings, it is not clear whether the Victorian school asked Blackfriars School if Hopkins had a good record at Blackfriars. Did Blackfriars School reveal the sex-abuse complaint of 1991? Or did Blackfriars remain silent about it?]

In the pre-sentence proceedings, the court learned that this would not be Hopkins's first conviction. Hopkins, a married father of three, returned to Adelaide from Victoria in the mid-1990s, buying a delicatessen in Adelaide with his wife. He sexually abused a 13-year-old boy, at the shop. For this, in 1999 he was given a four-year jail sentence (with parole after 18 months) after he pleaded guilty to six counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and one of indecent assault against this boy. When he was convicted in 1999, the offences at Blackfriars and St Bernadette's had not yet come to the attention of the police. Therefore, during the 1999 hearing, Hopkins's lawyers sought a lenient sentence, claiming that Hopkins had "a long and creditable career" as a school teacher at Blackfriars and St Bernadette's. But, in the 2006 hearing, Justice Perry remarked that, at the 1999 sentencing, Hopkins had "misled the court" by presenting a glowing picture of his Adelaide teaching years. Justice Perry said Hopkins "no doubt, received a lighter sentence [in 1999] than he should have."

In 2006, Justice Perry sentenced Hopkins to ten years' jail.

Case 3: Father Davis

Father Albert Davis was born about 1927. He was aged around 30 in the late 1950s when he was sexually abusing boys at Blackfriars. Broken Rites has found him listed as being at Blackriars in the 1958 edition of the annual Australian Catholic Directory.

Davis was in charge of the school's theatrical productions and he therefore had access to boys of various ages. As a priest, he easily intimidated each of his victims into remaining silent about the sexual abuse. The silence continued for five decades — until the police began investigating Mr Hopkins and Mr Stockdale-Hall around 2004.

In 2006, Fr Albert Davis was charged with 17 incidents of indecent assault involving seven boys at Blackfriars Priory School between 1956 and 1960. An Adelaide magistrate ruled that there was enough evidence for a jury to convict Davis. The magistrate committed him to stand trial in the Adelaide District Court but Davis died in Canberra in March 2007, aged 80, before the trial could be held.

As commonly happens, the magistrate had imposed a suppression order, preventing the media from identifying Davis and Blackfriars pending the trial. On 28 March 2007, following Davis's death, media outlets successfully applied for the suppression orders to be lifted. Blackfriars then immediately issued a media statement, saying that it had written letters to Davis's alleged victims about counselling and "possible" compensation. The school's principal (who, in 2007, was a layman, not a priest) said the school acknowledged that "we have a responsibility to those who have come through our school" (Adelaide Advertiser, 29 March 2007).

With the release of Father Davis's name on 28 March 2007, his victims had finally succeeded in ending the cover-up. Broken Rites is supporting these victims in their ongoing dealings with Blackfriars School and the Dominican Fathers. Davis's victims have suffered in various ways from the hurt that they have felt for 50 years. It will be interesting to see to what extent the school and/or the Dominicans honour the promise about "possible" compensation.

Fr Albert Davis's victims were not necessarily confined to South Australia. Davis "ministered" at other Dominican locations — for example in Canberra in the late 1970s and in Wahroonga (in northern Sydney) in the 1980s and 1990s.