A SALVATION Army officer described as “the most prolific of alleged child sexual abusers” was dismissed from the organisation but re-accepted four years later.
In the interim, Captain Lawrence Wilson served as a government child welfare officer, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has heard.
When finally brought to trial in 1997 for alleged sexual abuse of two boys at the Salvation Army’s Bexley Boys Home, he was acquitted of all charges.
Sixteen former residents of Gill Memorial Boys Home, Bexley, Indooroopilly and Riverview institutions have alleged at the Commission that Wilson sexually abused them.
The Army’s Major Farthing has described Wilson as the Eastern Territory’s “most serious offender.”
In total, the Army has paid out more than $1.2 million in compensation to his victims.
Wilson was just 20 when in 1965 he joined the Salvation Army as a cadet, counsel assisting, Simeon Beckett told the Commission.
He became a Lieutenant and not long after his first posting as assistant officer at Riverview Training Farm in Queensland, dragged a boy from his bed and raped him, Mr Beckett said.
Wilson raped another boy before leaving Riverview in 1959. He took up roles in Balmain and Indooroopilly and then moved back to Riverview.
But in 1961 he was “summarily dismissed” from the Salvation Army, Mr Beckett said.
The Army said this was for ‘engaging in sexual relations with his then fiancé.’
Yet he managed to secure a job with the NSW Child Welfare Department, working with children.
The Commission heard that during this time, his records revealed he was reprimanded several times for using unnecessary force with children, including a small boy.
“In 1964 he was also noted to have misled fellow officers about ‘medical experience,” Mr Beckett said.
“He was given a severe reprimand for violence against a child in December, 1965 and he and his wife immediately resigned their position.
“In a departmental memo of the time the officer noted that Mr Wilson had a ‘marked degree of immaturity’ in his handling of children and that his re-employment as a house parent would not be recommended.”
Yet in 1966 he was re-accepted into the Salvation Army and with his wife, completed training to both become Lieutenants the following year.
More indiscretions followed and despite recognition within the Army ranks that parents’ complaints about his behaviour had “credibility,” Wilson was posted to Gill Memorial Boys Home in 1970 as manager.
Here, evidence showed that he started sexually abusing boys “almost immediately.”
Two former boys, FF and FT, have alleged such abuse in statements to the Commission.
Also during this time, a senior officer at Gill told a visiting Army social services secretary about Wilson’s conduct generally and rumours circulating in Goulburn that he was sexually assaulting boys.
“Wilson’s time as manager at Gill also overlapped with the period during which (Salvation Army Officer X17) sexually abused boys and ultimately led to (X17’s) arrest and conviction,” Mr Beckett said.
In his next one-year posting at Indooroopilly, Wilson was alleged to have sexually abused five more boys, who have given evidence to the Commission.
Majors Cliff and Marina Randall have told the inquiry that Wilson regularly subjected boys to “medical inspections.” Mr Beckett said evidence showed that Wilson used these times to sexually assault them.
Worse was to follow when he became manager at Bexley in 1974 where other Salvation Army officers and residents abused the boys.
Later, in 1976, when Wilson moved to a Corps in Mackay, his reputation was well known within the hierarchy. When the Army’s field secretary discovered that Wilson had applied to become a police chaplain, he wrote that he wished that the appointment was to someone “more balanced,” Mr Beckett said.
“To this the Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army replied that he was ‘not unfamiliar with the difficulties we have experienced with this officer in the past and the nature of the problems.’”
Nevertheless, Wilson did become a NSW Police Force chaplain in 1980. He subsequently lost this post under controversial circumstances.
Despite knowledge of his past within the Church, in 1982 an Army divisional commander recommended Wilson’s promotion to Major. It did not eventuate and he sought sick leave.
“In denying the application for leave, the Chief Secretary told the Field Secretary that Wilson ‘had been a problem almost for the whole of his career,’” Mr Beckett said.
He resigned from the Army in 1982.
Wilson’s past came back to bite in 1994 when his victims started coming forward to the Salvation Army and police. Two former Bexley residents brought charges of buggery, common assault and indecent assault against him.
The Army did not help with his legal costs for the criminal charges but ultimately paid out $15,000 for related civil proceedings in 1996.
“In May, 1997 Wilson was committed to stand trial and was ultimately acquitted,” Mr Beckett said.
“The Salvation Army expressed surprise at his acquittal.”
Wilson died in 2008.
* An article in Wednesday’s Goulburn Post about former Gill resident Mark Stiles’ evidence the Commission should have stated that he lives in Queensland. Mr Stiles used to live in Canberra.