Abuser threatened children: inquiry

A victim of a serial pedophile once in charge of a state-run hostel has told a WA inquiry the predator would threaten children who tried to speak out against him.

The special inquiry follows the jailing of Dennis John McKenna, who sexually abused boys at St Andrew’s Hostel in Katanning, in WA’s south, where he was head warden from 1975 to 1990.

The victim, who did not want to be named, was one of the first men who reported McKenna’s crime and followed it through to a conviction in 1991.

He was 14 years old when he was abused by McKenna and told the inquiry on Monday – through a statement that was read out – that it was difficult enough to speak of the abuse now, let alone speak up back then.

The man said McKenna would threaten children that he would ruin their family farms if they spoke out and would suspend anyone who caused him trouble.

“Dennis would degrade students by belittling them …” he said.

“Those who spoke up the loudest were expelled.”

The victim said he was shown many pornographic films, which McKenna would show the boys before abusing them.

He said McKenna knew how to manipulate people by spinning lies.

The man said he was never offered any counselling and hoped that the inquiry would at least lead to some counselling being offered to the victims.

Earlier, the inquiry heard from Kenneth Perris, now 49, who was a 22-year-old physical education teacher at the school in 1985.

Mr Perris told the inquiry he often saw groups of about six to eight boys at McKenna’s flat and was concerned about seeing them lying on McKenna’s lap.

“It just didn’t seem proper to me,” he said.

Former school psychologist Nikola MacLennan told the inquiry that a boy in Year 8 came to her one day in 1988 in “considerable distress” and wanted to call his mother.

“He was extremely distressed – sobbing his heart out,” she said.

Ms MacLennan said she did not know what he was upset about, but the boy called his mother and the three of them had a meeting later that day with McKenna.

She said McKenna was “most reassuring” to the mother, while the boy remained silent.

Ms MacLennan said she was later called to see the principal, Ian Murray, and said she remembered the conversation clearly.

She said Mr Murray told her: “You don’t need to have anything to do with the hostel students.”

“It’s the best-run hostel in the state,” she recalled him saying.

Ms MacLennan said she looked at him blankly and did not say a word while Mr Murray laid praise on McKenna.

“He’s a good amateur psychologist,” he told her.

Ms MacLennan said she was instructed to alert McKenna before she worked with a student in future, which she thought was odd, but she was told by her superior to do what the principal told her to.

Retired Supreme Court Justice Peter Blaxell is heading the inquiry to determine the extent of the abuse and whether there was a cover-up in the 1970s and 80s that allowed it to continue.

McKenna was jailed for six years in October last year after pleading guilty to sexually abusing six boys, aged 13 to 15, in his care.

He had been jailed for six years in 1991 for similar offences.

The inquiry is expected to be completed by April, with a report presented by May 31.

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