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  • Evidence of evil
  • By Ian Munro
  • The Age
  • 20/09/2005 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 47 articles in 2005 )
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Few doubt the Family Court faces tough choices in custody battles. But what happens when the evidence is distorted - a mother lies and a father's claims are not believed? Ian Munro recounts a judgement that delivered two children into the hands of a pedophile.

Sometimes a man is his own worst enemy. Substituting outrage for argument. Anger for resignation. "Bob White" knew this. Even as he was losing it, as he heard himself shouting insults at the judge, as he felt the security guards grip his arms, he knew.

If White could have sorted through the fury that overwhelmed him in the moments he lost custody of his children, to find the thought that drove him then, and for years afterwards, he would have found this: what did he have left to lose?

He appears shame-faced at the retelling: "I told her: 'How dare you make a judgement like that without investigating my claims, you fat, lesbian bitch?'"
The guards took him away, and bought him a coffee. "I deserved getting dragged out. I knew I was not going to remain in the courtroom after that," he says now of his outburst to the judge.

On March 3, 1983, Justice Margaret Lusink of the Family Court of Australia ordered that Bob White's children, "Tim", then almost three, and "Mary", 21 months, live with his estranged wife, "Karla".

The order was made "conditional upon the wife living with the said children permanently in the home of (Karla's) parents" "Mark" and "Daisy Perkins".
The reason Bob White reacted as he did? He knew "Mark Perkins" was a child molester. That was what he wanted investigated.

Before they were married, Karla had told White that her father had often sexually assaulted and raped her. Two years before the Family Court hearing, White had learned that Perkins had resumed his sexual assaults of Karla - by now White's wife - while she was pregnant with their second child. Instinctively, he says, he confronted Perkins, and delivered a combination of punches that broke several of Perkins' ribs.

But under cross-examination, Karla denied ever being molested by her father. After Lusink's order, and a series of intervention orders taken out by Karla, White was shut out of his children's lives. He felt unable to protect them. He stayed angry. He was convinced they would be molested as they grew up.

His "claims" remained just that for almost 20 years, until late 2001 when Mark Perkins - then in his late 60s - was sentenced in the County Court to six years' jail for incest and sexual assault offences. By that time White's daughter, Mary, had been a victim of Perkins' most of her life.

The convictions related to offences in 1965 against an 11-year-old female cousin of Karla's, and to incest and indecent assault offences against Mary that started in 1987, when Mary was five, and continued until she was 18.

Since Perkins' trial, Karla has claimed, and been awarded, $7000 compensation in Ringwood Magistrates Court for the sexual assaults she suffered as a child and an adult from her father. This is despite her earlier denials in the Family Court. White has plenty in his sights. His exwife, for one. The Family Court for another.

"I believe the family law court should be under scrutiny. They are a law of their own. They have dictated my children's futures by not investigating my allegations," he says.

"The Family Court put my children in the hands of an unfit mother, a drunk (his mother-in-law) and a pedophile (his father-in-law)".

He believes his ex-wife should be prosecuted for perjury: "If she had told the truth, the court would never have given her the kids under those conditions. She fed (Perkins) the kids. It's very much the family from hell," White says.

It is a cliche of modern life for angry men to rail against the Family Court. While it is a truism that the court confronts dreadful dilemmas, how could it get a case so wrong that two infants were delivered up to a pedophile?

Part of the answer is that Bob White was his own worst enemy in more ways than one, and anger had much to do with it.

He and Karla married in 1978. Karla had a history of depression during her teen years, when she became uncontrollable, and was treated for a time at Larundel psychiatric hospital. She was 20 when they married. Bob, raised in a boys' home from the age of six, was 24. Their children were born in 1980 and 1981.

When Karla was several months pregnant with Mary, White says he returned home from work to find her in tears.

After much coaxing, Karla revealed that, "Dad was around today ... he had sex with me." White says Karla had revealed the incestuous assaults while they were dating, but this was the first he knew of it happening during their marriage.

A transcript of the child custody hearing records that Karla denied ever having been sexually abused by her father. She said her ex-husband made the allegation "because he hates my father".

The cross-examination transcript goes on:

Lawyer: I put it to you that you also told a priest, "Reverend Maher" about it, why would you do that?.

Karla: As a joke.

Lawyer: I also put it to you that your father has a history of sexual abuse.

Karla: No. He has never touched me in any way

Despite her denials, Maher lent credence to Bob White's story. Maher, who now ministers to an Anglican parish interstate, confirmed as accurate a transcript of his evidence obtained by The Age.

He told the court he officiated at Bob and Karla's wedding, and that Karla later "came to talk to me about a situation, (but) given my standing as a priest I cannot go into detail".

Lawyer: OK, what about the topic?

Maher: It was incest and rape related.

Lawyer: Can you give any more detail?

Maher: No.

Lawyer: What advice did you give her?

Maher: To alert the police and take action.

Lawyer: Does the husband know?

Maher: I told her to talk to him about it, but she feared he would harm her father.

Putting aside the cleric's testimony, and that telling final clause, the court decided Karla, although unfit to be a sole parent, was a witness to be trusted. She was awarded custody on condition she live with her parents.

"If she had stood up in court and said her father had molested her all her life, no judge would have given her custody on that condition," White says.
How does a father live with the certain knowledge that his children are the prey of a child molester?

"When I lost everything, I lost everything," White says. His home, his job, and for a time, his will to live. He prepared to take his own life, but was disturbed in the act. He considered killing Perkins, but decided that in his kids' eyes that would leave him as the "live villain" and Perkins the "dead hero".

"Out of the marriage I got a bean bag. I used to take the trusty bean bag around to my friends' places and sleep on it," he says.

"The very thing that pulled me around was that if I bumped myself off, who is going to be there for my kids.

"I had dreams where I had Mark in a headlock and I was unscrewing his head. I enjoyed those dreams, but it was killing me, actually. I had to move on, but that did not mean leaving behind the two kids.

All the time I was beside myself, stewing, angry, couldn't hold down a job, couldn't concentrate. I had a couple of accidents at work through not concentrating."

Maher had more to say about Bob and Karla's relationship, however, having described it as, "a reasonably amicable one of a sado-masochistic variety; violence was their form of communication."

White admitted to the court striking his wife with "deliberate full-blooded hitting ... once it was with a clenched fist to the point of her jaw ... other times I hit her with the back of my hand."

He says now that the transcript misrepresents him: that he struck Karla to subdue her when she attacked him, or threatened one of the children, or even herself.
But Lusink said the short marriage sounded like a series of prize bouts with ill-matched contestants - its history "would appear more appropriately set out in the boxing section of a sports page".

The judge suggested no court could entrust children to a man who appeared to communicate only through violence.

She erred crucially when, while describing Karla as "vague", she found that she was "a witness of truth".

The Perkins family was not done with White when the custody case was settled in 1983. The following year a kindergarten teacher noticed that Mary behaved oddly around men. Any man.

Mary and her brother, Tim, were by this time living with her mother and grandparents, while White had fortnightly contact. The Perkins family objected to the Family Court continuing to allow access visits.

"Any father who picked up their children, or any male, delivery men bringing something to the kindergarten, she would be up on their shoulders within seconds, just indiscriminate approaches," says the teacher, "Terri McKenzie".

McKenzie says that she drew Mary's behaviour to the Perkins' attention.

According to what she was told, the inappropriate behaviour seemed to correspond with White's access fortnights. "I did say in a statement (prepared for the Family Court) that the odd behaviour seemed to correspond with when the Perkins family told me Bob had access," she says.

They accused Bob of abusing Mary, something which he recently discovered is recorded in one of his daughter's medical files.

McKenzie became deeply involved with the family, alerting relevant departments to assist them, and gained an insight into why Karla was not given unconditional custody. "Karla would only surface (at the kindergarten) every six months or so. I would be around at the (Perkins) house at lunchtime and Karla would still be in bed. She was out nightclubbing every night. She was epileptic.

She was portrayed as being totally incapable of looking after the children. The Perkinses were the primary care givers." After Perkins' conviction, McKenzie says, she realised she had been manipulated into making a statement to the court.

Over 10 years, White did not see Mary or Tim, who also told police he was abused by Mark Perkins. The Perkinses moved on each time White, or one of the several private detectives he engaged, tracked them down.

In 1997, 32 years after a first approach to police that resulted in no action, Karla's cousin tried again, reporting Perkins for assaulting her.

The case against Perkins finally moved ahead after Mary complained about him. Soon after, Karla moved against her father and she contacted Terri McKenzie to tell her the truth. McKenzie had suspected someone had been abusing Mary, but she had never had direct evidence of who it was.McKenzie told police: "When I became aware that Mark Perkins had been charged with sexually assaulting Mary, I was breathlessly shocked and shattered for all parties concerned." But, she added, it seemed to reflect the dysfunction she had detected within the family.

Karla had been admitted to Larundel as a teenager, after making allegations against her father, which she later withdrew. She was both a victim and a participant in excluding White from his children. White is unforgiving and wants her pursued for perjury.

"I think the family law court should be under scrutiny," White says. "They are a law of their own. They have dictated my children's futures by not investigating my allegations. They took away my time as a father."

Mark Perkins is now 73. He is due for release next year.

The names of family members and witnesses have been changed for legal reasons.

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