by Hannes Wessels
Following the miserable travails of Dr. Russell Pridgeon and Mr. Patrick O’Dea has been a disturbing and painful exercise and sadly, it appears there is no end in sight. My hopes, since I last wrote about this case, that those wielding the full force of the law of the land, who seek to destroy them, would relent and end their torment, have been dashed.
Posting this article is perplexing and fills me with no joy. I do so against the advice of some very well informed friends; I know pursuing this story carries risk but conscience and commitment to friends in desperate need compels me. I also know how good Australia has been to many of my former compatriots who left Zimbabwe in search of a more secure place with a brighter future for their children and found it; that generosity is to be applauded. However no system is perfect, and this seems to have been manifested in the treatment meted out to these gentlemen. They appear to have revealed an ugly fault-line running through the judiciary, law enforcement and indeed the body-politic of the country, and they are paying dearly for it.
In short, looking at the sequence of events from afar, and as an outsider, it appears quite obvious to me, it is now a very dangerous undertaking in Australia, to protect a child from rape.
To summarise: Two years ago, Russell, Patrick and five others were arrested by the AFP (Australian Federal Police) in the course of investigations conducted under so-called ‘Operation Noetic’. The arrests were made by no less than 28 policemen and women, and the event was widely televised in a multimedia frenzy. The message sent to the world, with headlines referring to ‘Child Kidnapping Ring,’ was that Russell was the evil mastermind and financier of an international child trafficking operation involving up to 200 children. He was accused of transferring millions in profits from this criminal enterprise to off-shore accounts. Tellingly, right from the outset, only three children were identified, and the charges relating to ‘profiting from crime’ have recently been withdrawn because it is quite obvious to the investigators the alleged money transfers never took place.
However, as it stands now, they, along with five other defendants, face charges with jail time of over 40 years because they sheltered a woman who was a fugitive, having rescued her seven-year old twin girls from a home where she insists they were being horribly abused. Despite 40 mandatory reports supporting this and an active apprehended violence order against the domestically violent father, the police saw fit to inform the Family Court that the abuse was ‘unsubstantiated’ and the children were ordered back into the custody of the father. One of the lead police investigators hounding the defendants has a history of neglect in child abuse allegations, so much so that he was reprimanded by a Royal Commission that looked into his poor investigation of child abuse in institutions and why it took him five years to arrest paedophiles who raped a child and were subsequently jailed. He received a slap on the wrist.
Australia’s pre-eminent expert on child abuse, Prof Freda Briggs, had investigated the allegations, and wrote a damning report about the Police negligence but she was prevented from testifying in Court about what had happened to the children. Similarly, the 13 witnesses to the children’s disclosures of abuse were also prevented from testifying in court. The children’s disclosures were graphic, detailed and consistent, describing sex acts no four or five-year-old would be able to fabricate.
Freda was utterly horrified by the Family Court orders that gave sole custody to the father, who the children had identified as their abuser. She used her status as an ‘Order of Australia’ recipient, to appeal to every possible minister or attorney general in Queensland. She was ignored.
Against this backdrop, the defendants are being prosecuted in the most malicious and vindictive way while the welfare of the children and the conduct of the relevant authorities appears to be of little consequence.
Thus far the system seems to have failed the children and those who genuinely care for them but there is a glimmer of hope for Russell and Patrick when proceedings go to criminal trial where Family Court rules no longer apply. In this forum, it is hoped, the prosecution, by their own actions, will be forced to reveal the extensive documentary and ancillary evidence thus far withheld from scrutiny, confirming the abuse visited upon the children and view the actions of the two men and their co-defendants in the light of the unfortunate circumstances they found themselves in that compelled them to do what they did. At the same time, this indisputable evidence will lay bare and damn the actions of the AFP, the prosecuting authority and possibly other people in high places whose conduct is demanding of a cogent, fulsome explanation. Unfortunately, the trial they so anxiously await seems subject to perpetual, inexplicable delays.
In the meantime, Russell and Patrick, unable to work under onerous bail conditions restricting movement, are being forced into penury, and due to lack of funds, struggle to pay for legal assistance. Russell is using the time to apply his excellent mind to learning the law so he is able to defend himself. They live in limbo, uncertain of when they will finally have a trial-date and an opportunity to clear their good names. The Australian press seems to have been stunned into a supine silence and the publicity they so badly need, is denied. Politicians across the country ignore their pleas for intervention.
For the O’Dea family a lifetime’s search for justice and fairness remains elusive. Patrick the soldier, fought hard, and was wounded in the war to prevent Mugabe’s accession to power which ironically, was achieved with the enthusiastic support of the then Australian government led by Malcolm Fraser. Never one to give up, he, along with his sister Kathleen resumed the fight on the political front as fiercely determined members of the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change). As close friends of the late Heather and Roy Bennett, and at their side through much of the turmoil, they both risked life and liberty on several occasions, but alas, their efforts were in vain. Both eventually sought sanctuary from state sponsored terror in their homeland; now it appears Patrick has found himself facing the same challenges, albeit in a different guise in Australia. It looks more and more like he should have stayed where he was.
The open letter below penned by Patrick’s wife Christine is moving, compelling and a plea to good people everywhere for help:
I am Patrick Finbar McGarry O’Dea ‘s wife . I would like to set the record straight . My Husband is a loving, kind, adoring husband and father of four children and six grandchildren . He is a man who is a Rhodesian War Veteran and a man with high moral standing . He has sustained and lived with war injuries his whole life and suffers pain every day. The media would like you to believe and have inferred, suggested, and even said openly that my husband is a pedophile. This is ludicrous, abhorrent,and couldn’t be further from the truth. My husband and Dr Pridgeon whom we have known for years and the Doctor’s family for decades, formed The Australian Anti Pedophile Party and were hoping to get into the Senate to fight for their cause to have a Royal Commission into the Family Courts to right a lot of wrongs that were related to them from many women who had been affected by the unfair rulings . These two men are caring men and stood up and helped families mothers with children when they were asked . They are not Perpetrators they are saviours . This is such an injustice that these good men are being treated like the scum of the earth when in fact they fought for the children to be heard . These poor children’s sufferings and their cries falling on deaf ears . Let me ask a question What would you do if you knew a child was being abused? Ignore the Cries? Turn your back ? If you want Justice for these Good men write letters to your local MP to the papers and letters of support for Dr Pridgeon to Duke St Clinic Grafton.