Sunday, 22 October 2017

Potential witness in Exclusive Brethren sex abuse case paid to remain silentMichael Bachelard

The Exclusive Brethren church has been covering up child sex abuse for decades, and last year I wrote about it. The story told of children who were denied, bullied or bought off by the religious sect to keep their abuse secret.

The main source for the story was the Brethren's former spokesman, Tony McCorkell.

A towering, flawed mountain of a man, McCorkell went nervously on the record with me, breaking ranks a decade after leaving the church and confessing to the role he had played in the history of cover-ups. It was a role that ate at his conscience.

What was not clear at the time, to either McCorkell or me, was how far the Exclusive Brethren would go to continue resist the truth being told.

The Exclusive Brethren is a Christian-based religious sect that former members say is a cult. Led by multi-millionaire Sydney businessman Bruce D. Hales, it hides from public scrutiny. Its members will not eat, form friendships or communicate with outsiders, except to do business with them or to lobby conservative politicians.

It donates freely, but secretly, to the Liberal Party, even though its members do not vote. It splits families, denies children the opportunity to go to university and minimises its tax payments. Hales recently recommended one member take arsenic or rat poison rather than communicate with his own family members.

The church's response to my sexual abuse story was swift and comprehensive.

Before it was even published last June, they warned me I was in danger of breaching the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act and the defamation law. A Melbourne-based church functionary, Lloyd Grimshaw, wrote to Fairfax Media chairman Nick Falloon seeking "management oversight" of my journalism.

A month after the story was published, a Brethren company registered as a charity, the Plymouth Brethren (Exclusive Brethren) Christian Church Limited, briefed Sydney lawyer Mark O'Brien and sued Fairfax Media and me personally in the Supreme Court for defamation.

As The Australian's legal affairs editor, Chris Merritt, reported at the time: "If the case goes to court, the evidence of Mr McCorkill [sic]… could be ­crucial."

A second legal action over the same story was taken against me by a church member described as "Jane Doe" who alleges my reporting illegally identified her as a child victim of sex abuse. That case continues in a different Sydney court.

In suburban meeting halls in Australian cities, the Brethren held prayer gatherings in which they appealed to God for the death or "removal" of me and McCorkell over "the legal proceedings in Sydney". When McCorkell did actually die this year at the age of 37 of natural causes, they called it an "answer to prayer", and "God's work completed".

But for this wealthy, closed Christian group, leaving it to the courts and to prayer was not enough. They also talked with their wallets. They resorted to bribery.

As we prepared our defence, behind the scenes, McCorkell was negotiating the financial terms of his silence. 

Just three days after the defamation writ lodged, Lloyd Grimshaw, a director of the company suing me, signed an agreement with McCorkell. Entitled "Services and Confidentiality Deed", the agreement proposed to pay McCorkell $920,000 over 10 years; part up front, the rest in monthly payments of $6000, along with a $75,000 "holding" account, to keep his mouth shut.

McCorkell, though, did not want to wait 10 years for his cash. 

On Friday, October 21, last year, he flew from his Queensland home to Sydney to renegotiate. Grimshaw's name might have been on the agreement, but it was not him talking turkey. That was left to Dean Hales, the son of the Brethren's Elect Vessel, the Man of God, Bruce Hales.

Dean Hales did not return calls, and Grimshaw said it was "not convenient" to talk when I spoke to him at home this week.

But the evidence is clear: McCorkell got what he wanted – cash up front.

On Tuesday, October 25, last year, McCorkell sent a text to a friend, saying: "Dean's been texting me today and so it will happen this morning, I believe. I'm tired and nervous but excited."

At 3.18pm that day he texted his friend again: "They just confirmed it's paid."

Bank records of McCorkell's company, Auserv, obtained by Fairfax Media, show that $137,500 hit his business account the same day – the first half of the bribe plus GST.

For the rest of the story see I apologise.... entering the wrong link. Should be ok now.

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