Front page of the West Australian newspaper
Kids hospital scare in ‘The West’
‘The West Australian’ raised far more serious concerns about the Princess Margaret Hospital in this front page story a few weeks back:
Four staff quit amid allegations of child abuse and pornography
The article was by ‘The West’s’ newly appointed investigations editor, Natalie O’Brien, and it opened with this alarming claim:
Dozens of sick children at Princess Margaret Hospital may have fallen prey to a group of paedophiles who infiltrated the Subiaco medical centre during the past two years an gained unrestricted access to vulnerable young patients…
The report alleged a hospital cover up, exposed by the paper:
An investigation by The West Australian has revealed that four hospital employees have been accused of sexually assaulting children and downloading child pornography on a hospital computer…
The hospital called in the authorities, but the allegations were never made public.
The story was instantly huge, with radio and TV news bulletins, talkback hosts and, of course, some very worried parents:
Now we’ve spoken to one parent today whose child goes in and out of PMH and she’s said to us, I’ll be sleeping on a chair alongside my child’s bed next time she goes up there because I don’t have confidence that the child can be protected.
The health department, the minister and the assistant commissioner of police hastily called a press conference to deal with the allegations, and to flatly deny there was any evidence of a paedophile group:
6:15: The police has no evidence that a group of paedophiles has infiltrated the Princess Margaret Hospital…
6:27 We’ve had one investigation in relation to an allegation about one female patient (this refers to the one girl). We investigated this thoroughly and based on medical evidence at the time no charges were preferred…
So one allegation of child abuse — unproven — the staff member concerned resigned.
But what about the other three staff members The West had claimed were forced to resign?
The hospital conceded that three staff had left after what they called “inappropriate use of the internet” — accessing adult web sites at the hospital.
But not child pornography.
2930: ‘There is no child pornography. If there was child pornography it would’ve been reported to police immediately as a criminal offence. This is not child pornography.’
But if the any-one thought ‘The West’ might be a little contrite or, alternatively, feel it was time to produce some proof, no way.
The next day, Natalie O’Brien was back on the front page with details of the one case of alleged child abuse, and then this:
The incident came to light during an investigation by the West Australian which revealed four hospital staff had been forced to resign amid allegations of paedophilia and child pornography.
And what about the Health Department’s denials? They didn’t rate a mention.
‘The West’ had sent a reporter, Jessica Strutt, to cover the Press Conference the day before, her story was back on page 6.
Alleged abuser was charged before
Mr McGinty and Dr Fong outlining details of the molestation incidents to the media.
Well, not quite telling all.
‘The West’ managed a story about Health’s response to the newspapers claims of a paedophile group and child porn, that failed to mention the claims were denied.
The rest of the media were dropping off the story but ‘The West’ was still on the job.
The following day Natalie O’Brien had another alarming revelation:
PMH doctor accused of abusing boy in his care
A doctor at Princess Margaret Hospital allegedly sexually abused a 13-year-old boy in-patient.
The revelation directly contradicts claims by the State government of just one case of paedophilia reported in the hospital’s 95 year history Police were given a sworn statement about the assault in 2001.
This new case wasn’t so new though — since Natalie failed to reveal that while the police were given a statement in 2001, the allegations related to events 15 years earlier, and once again no case was proved.
If the hospital thought that this might be the end of it, they underestimated ‘The West’. Three days later another remarkable headline:
PMH paedophile claims grow
Three concerned families complained to police in 1995 about a man they suspected of sexually abusing their children at a business frequented by families and staff at Princess Margaret Hospital
“At a business frequented by families and staff of Princess Margaret hospital”, is Natalie for real?
Next it’ll be “at beaches where they sometimes go at week-ends”.
But to give Natalie her due, by now she did acknowledge that the government and the health department had denied what she still calls her revelation of:
… claims of paedophiles infiltrating the Subiaco children’s hospital
But where is the proof?
What made Natalie’s original story so plausible was she reported the head of Women’s and Children’s Health Services, Glyn Palmer, had confirmed her claims:
Glyn Palmer admitted yesterday that four employees had been forced to resign amid allegations of paedophilia and child pornography, and that he had no idea of the number of children who might have been abused.
But Glyn Palmer has told ‘Media Watch’:
This was completely untrue, I did not admit anything like that.
Glyn Palmer says Natalie O’Brien did call him the day before her original story was published.
He says he told her that in any institution like a school or a hospital you can never guarantee that there are no paedophiles, but:
She never talked to me or asked me about staff at [Princess Margaret Hospital] being accused of paedophilia… I did confirm there had been inappropriate use of the internet, but I definitely did not confirm that any-one had accessed child pornography… When I read her story the next day I just felt it was a complete fabrication of my conversation with her.
These are very serious accusations.
Natalie O’Brien denies she’s misquoted Palmer. She tells us she stands by her reports.
Yes. I stand by the story…IT WAS NOT WRONG.
Have a look
But confusingly Natalie’s response concedes that her allegations were overstated.
Natalie’s original claim of four staff forced to resign for paedophilia and child pornography no longer stands: there was no child pornography.
But Natalie says it was the hospital’s fault. She says Glyn Palmer confirmed that one staff member resigned after accessing child pornography.
Glyn Palmer denies this.
I definitely did not confirm that any-one had accessed child pornography…
He would like an apology.
I don’t want a personal apology but I do want them to apologise to the hospital … the story was alarmist and untrue.
The West Australian has not apologised to the children’s hospital, and it’s yet to acknowledge it made any errors in its coverage.