CFA finally acknowledges historical sexual abuse at Ballarat Station

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In a town which has been rocked to the core by sexual abuse, the Country Fire Authority is the latest in a list of institutions to finally come clean about its dark past.
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Former Ballarat junior fire brigade members Paul and Craig were both abused by ex-station officer Ivor Leslie Harvey.

In late 1970sthe CFA’s junior brigade program was at the height of its popularity.A picture from the Ballarat Fire Brigade’s 125 Year History book (ironically written by the abuser himself) shows an image of a group of eager young men, sporting their ‘Ballarat’ labelled polo shirts with pride.

Then in his 50s, station officer Ivor Leslie Harvey would regularly take some of the boys out on fishing trips, wandering through the bush in search of bait before heading to Lake Burrumbeet on the outskirts of town.

Given many within the junior ranks had parents in the senior brigade, the offender would often befriend families to gain access to young firefighters.

Among those who was taken on these fateful journeys was Paul Marshall. A young,brown-haired boy in his early teens, Harvey would arrange with Paul’s parents to take him out on expeditions in the school holidays.

Harvey would ask the young man if he would like to drive the ute, before insisting he sit on his knee. On another occasion Harvey rubbed his penis through his clothing.

“I knew something wasn’t right, but as a kid they’re able to gain your trust, which is what paedophiles rely on. I just didn’t know any better,” Paul said of the disturbing occurrences.

Taking a stand: Paul Marshall was one of three former junior firefighters from the Ballarat Fire Station who pressed charges against former station officer Ivor Leslie Harvey in 2017. Picture: Brendan Wrigley

It would be years before he would ever truly share the horrors he experienced, and almost four decades before he would make his statement to police.

For Paul’s junior colleague Craig, the abuse would become particularly frequent in the early 1980s. On several occasions in 1982 and 1983 Craig was taken on fishing expeditions by Harvey where he was molested, before on occasion being bribed to remain silent through food and drink.

In one instance soon after Christmas Harvey threatened to have Craig’s parents remove a train set he’d received as a gift should he attempt to revealthe abuse.Itwas the flurry of court cases and media reports stemming from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse which prompted him to finally approach police in late 2015.

READ MORE:Ballarat CFA station officer Ivor Harvey indecently assaulted junior brigade members

“Istarted then to realise I hadn’t got justice and it was about time for him to pay the price,” Craig said.

When the case finally appeared before a judge in 2016, police informed the courtHarvey had a number of relevant prior and subsequent convictions on top of the trio’s accusations.

The warning signs

Then-station officer at Ballarat Ian Phillips was one of those within the CFA confineswho knew action needed to be taken.

Craig first approached police about the abuse in late 2015. Picture: Kate Healy

In the early 1980s he was informed by Victoria Police that a senior member at Ballarat Fire Station was under investigation for “inappropriate behaviour”.

Mr Phillips attempted to have this information passed up the chain of command, but was stunned to see the accusations brushed aside by senior management.

“At that time and until this day, what I consider was a lack of action by CFA at the time allowed this abuse to continue undetected for a further period of time,” said Mr Phillips.

READ MORE:Speaking out against sexual abuse shows bravery: CASA

“A simple recommendation (was) put forward at the time, but needed to be signed off by a more senior position than mine may have saved further torment and stemmed the possible enormity of what appears may be the final outcome of this sorry saga.”

Harvey remained a presence within the Ballarat CFA until 1986, when he retired due to“ill health”. Just a month later he would be found not guilty of incidents involving a 13 and 17-year-old boy from that January.

A final response

Paul and Craig finally had their case heard by the CFA’s highest ranking officers in November 2017, following The Courier’s front page splash of Harvey’s guilty verdict.

Chief officer Steve Warrington. Picture: Amy Paton

Despite the fact the abuse had occurred more than 30 years ago and court proceedings had begun in early 2016, nobody from senior management had reached out the the CFA employees.

On Thursday the CFA finally made its first public statement on the matter, announcing victims would have access to the Commonwealth redress scheme and thata specialised support service had been set up in conjunction withCentres Against Sexual Assault.

“Certainly the guys themselves were disappointed that there was no action taken as a result of that story (in October),” chief officer Steve Warrington said. “When someone did bring it to our attention a couple of weeks later we certainly proceeded very quickly to take action.

The CFA has since hired a full time investigator to discover the depth of not only Harvey’s abuse throughout the organisation, but also that of other perpetrators.

Mr Warrington declinedto state how many other abusers or victims had been uncovered by the ongoing investigation, but said “we accept it did happen, we accept that it wasn’t right and we need to right our ways”.

He also said he didn’t know whether an internal investigation had ever been launched into Harvey’s conduct, despite the offender appearing in court on several occasions.

Looking forward

Despite decades of suffering, Craig still holds hope that putting the wrongs of the past into the public spotlight will spur others to reveal their stories.

READ MORE:Former Sebastopol mayor found guilty of child sex offences

Indeed, his revelations come less than a year after another disgraced former CFA member, former Sebastopol mayor Graham Collins, was found guilty of sex offences.

“The support of my wife, family and close friends has been amazing,” said Craig, who like Paul still works within the CFA. “It’s frustratingthings have only got moving since November when the chief was alerted (by us)”.

“Iwant to reach out to any other people that were affected by him to come forward, go to the police and make a statement and utilise the services that have been made available through the CFA.”

“There are more wonderful people in the CFAthan bad people, and this is happening in all organisations, we’ve just got toturn over the soil and rat these bastards out.

“If anybody out there has done this in the past, is doing it now or is considering it in the future, we’re getting stronger and you should be very nervous.”

• To contact CASA call 5320 3933 or free call 24 hours1800 806 292.

Read the CFA’s full statement here.

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