St Ann’s Special School, Adelaide

St Ann’s Special School, Adelaide

St Ann’s Special School (now called Our Lady of La Vang School) was established in 1975 through Catholic Special Schools Incorporated.

Based in Adelaide, the school catered for children living with intellectual disabilities ranging from moderate to profound level of severity.

St Ann’s taught 50 to 60 children at a time and the age group ranged from five-years-old to 20-years-old. Regardless of age, most of the students had limited communication skills and abilities.

The school’s bus driver, Brian Perkins, used this to his advantage.

Perkins had a criminal history – child abduction by force or fraud, carnal knowledge, attempted carnal knowledge and larceny. He had served time in prison before becoming a bus driver for St Ann’s but this didn’t stop him from getting the job.

Principal Claude Hamam did not complete a police check on Perkins before offering the criminal a job. This basic check would have revealed Perkin’s history of child sexual abuse.

Hamam also failed to interview other applicants and did not consult the St Ann’s chairperson before hiring Perkins. This is against the South Australian Catholic schools handbook.

Due to this complete failure in management, Perkins was allowed to abuse more than 30 girls in the 1980s and 1990s.

Perkins was required to drive children with intellectual and communication disabilities to and from school each day. He was unsupervised – which was not uncommon in the 1980s.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the South Australian Commission for Catholic Schools (SACCS) provided funding for an additional staff member on each bus at St Ann’s.

Perkins also volunteered as a groundskeeper and woodworker at St Ann’s, providing more opportunities for him to abuse the students. At this time, St Ann’s did have a policy which stated volunteers on the grounds needed to be supervised at all times – but Perkins was allowed to work and communicate with students without staff supervision.

Perkins also provided “respite care” for some students. In later investigations, Principal Hamam provided evidence the school did not authorise this.

In 1991, complaints started flooding in from parents about Perkins.

A former student alleged she was taken to Perkin’s hotel and then his flat, where the two consumed alcohol. Perkins asked her to remove her clothes and he took photos of her.

She was 19-years-old at the time.

Another victim was identified and the South Australian Police searched Perkin’s home. The officers found two rolls of film and discovered pornographic images of two male students of St Ann’s.

Following the search, Perkins went missing and the case was filed.

In 1993, South Australian Police received pornographic material picturing an adult male with underage boys. This triggered them to launch Operation Deny to find Perkins.

Perkins was arrested at his son’s house where more pornographic material was found. He was charged with forcing a child to expose his body for a prurient purpose, indecent assault and possession of child pornography.

On 27 October 1993, Perkins was granted bail in the Magistrates Court. A few months later, more serious sexual offences were laid against Perkins, but he failed to appear for court and an arrest warrant was issued.

Between January 1994 and February 1998, failed to examine the pornographic material involving Perkins and no attempt was made to locate him.

Perkins was located in Queensland in 1998 but the South Australian Police declined to extradite him due to “inaccurate information” on the seriousness of his charges. The South Australian Police also failed to inform the broader community about Perkin’s charges – despite the fact that some students still had contact with Perkins.

From 2001, parents and families of St Ann’s students urged the South Australian Police to extradite Perkins. The Archdiocese of Adelaide even offered to pay for the extradition.

The police declined.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Perkins was convicted of five sexual offences against three former students of St Ann’s. He was sentenced to a decade but died in prison in 2009.

Through the Towards Healing Program, Catholic Church Insurance paid a total of $800,000 to the St Ann’s victims. In 2004, 38 families had come forward for compensation.

During the Royal Commission’s investigation of St Ann’s Special School, it was found the response from St Ann’s and the South Australian Police to Perkin’s criminal history and subsequent offending at the school was grossly inadequate.

The South Australian Police has multiple opportunities to arrest Perkins. He was allowed to escape twice.

Principal Hamam also ignored school standards for hiring a volunteer bus driver. He didn’t look into Perkin’s criminal history. A simple check would have flagged Perkins’ prior child sexual abuse offences.

Evidence also shows Hamam did not question Perkins when the bus was late to school – an almost daily occurrence. He also did not enforce supervision when Perkins was working on the school grounds.

The failure of the school and the police to act in Perkins’ case was horrific. There were endless opportunities to protect the children from Perkins. No one questioned him. No one looked into his background.

This enabled Perkins to abuse children in the woodshed on the grounds. He took explicit photographs of children there.

He was allowed to provide “respite care” outside of school hours.

At Kelso Lawyers, we believe this is a disgrace. Australian institutions should care more about the people they’re designed to guide and protect – which is why it’s our mission to act on behalf of victims of institutional abuse and achieve compensation for your trauma.

Fight injustice alongside Kelso Lawyers. We can help you achieve compensation for the trauma you’ve experienced – get in touch today.