The Salvation Army and the Royal Commission

An overview of the Salvation Army’s involvement in the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse

The Salvation Army suffered a serious blow to its reputation following Case Studies 5 and 10 at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. As the news headlines emerged, most people thought, “surely not the Salvos too?” But the Royal Commission heard how dozens of Salvation Army officers brutally abused boys at homes and orphanages run by the Salvation Army. Case Study 5 concentrated on four homes in particular; Gill Memorial Home in Goulburn (‘Gill’), Bexley Boys’ Home (‘Bexley’), Indooroopilly Boys’ Home (Alkira), and Riverview Boys’ Home (Endeavour).

Major Victor Bennett started his career at Gill in 1948, and was at some time appointed to each of the four homes above. He was quick to physically punish the boys and became known to do so in an excessive and sadistic way. More than one survivor recalled how Victor Bennett would organise fights between the boys and make them fight each other. He was also known for forced oral sex and sodomy of the boys. Click here http://www.kelsos.com.au/brett/ to read the story of Brett who was abused by Victor Bennett and for whom Kelso Lawyers obtained a substantial settlement of compensation.

During the hearing of Case Study 5, Major Peter Farthing described Lawrence Wilson as the Salvation Army’s, “most serious offender.” Like Victor Bennet, Lawrence Wilson also served at all four homes. By the time of the hearing, the Salvation Army had received complaints of abuse by twenty (20) individual boys each from one of the above four homes. His abuse consisted of extreme physical punishments, and forced oral and anal sex. He was dismissed from the Salvation Army in 1961 for having sexual relations with his then fiancée. He was reprimanded for his harsh treatment of boys at Berry Training Farm in 1965 before being accepted back into the Salvation Army where he continued abusing the boys, and complaints continued to emerge. He was transferred to a management role at Gill in 1970 and in 1973 he was transferred to Alkira. At each home he continued to abuse, and the complaints continued to emerge. Lawrence Wilson resigned his officership in September 1982 having never been the subject of disciplinary action. As at the date of the hearing of Case Study 5, the Salvation Army had paid out $1.2 million to survivors of abuse by Wilson.

Major John McIver started at Bexley in 1968 then at Alkira from 1974. At the hearing of Case Study 5, ten (10) survivors of abuse told how they were brutally physically and sexually abused by John McIver at Bexley and Alkira. He was known for his “kidney punch” as punishment for some perceived misdemeanour. He made the boys remove their pants, and bend over naked to receive lashings with a cane or belt. He was also known for forced oral and anal sex during the night in the dormitories. Complaints began to emerge in 1975. He came to the attention of the Queensland Department of Children’s Services. In November 1975, the Director of the Department wrote to the Salvation Army stating that he had,

“some discussion with Captain McIver who is not at all easy to deal with and who questions the knowledge basis of the Child Care Officers when it comes to dealing with the sort of boy who he has in his Home. Captain McIver’s approach to young people is one of the reasons why this Department has been reluctant to place boys at ‘Alkira’”.

John McIver retired in 2004, but the Salvation Army only told him about the allegations against him in 2013. He continued to deny the allegations until he was suspended from the Salvation Army officership in January 2014.

In our experience Bennett, Wilson and McIver are some of the worst offenders at Salvation Army homes; however, we have also received complaints of serious sexual and/or physical abuse by Lieutenant Rogers, Captain Gillham, Lieutenant Terry Smith, Captain Ronald Cotterill, Captain Reginald Cowling, Captain Kenneth Judge, Envoy Norman Mann, and Lieutenant Kingsley Pratt.

The Response from the Salvation Army

During Case Study 10 at the Royal Commission, the Salvation Army’s response to complaints of abuse was examined. It was found that the Salvation Army had generally inadequate practices and policies for checking the background of its officers. It was found the Salvation Army had failed to act upon complaints of abuse. In its settlements with individual survivors, the Royal Commission found that the Salvation Army had often ‘low-balled’ the complainants, and required them to sign Deeds of Release without encouraging them to obtain legal advice. Most complainants felt they were simply being told to ‘go away.’ With our clients, we ensure the same mistakes cannot happen again.

The Salvation Army has set up a Restorative Justice Process where clients prepare a detailed statement about what happened to them, and the impact it has had on their lives. We assist clients with this in a sensitive and respectful way, and we ensure the strongest possible case is put forward. We back up our client’s case with medical records and reports from mental health practitioners where appropriate. A senior member of the Salvation Army then meets with the client directly, if they wish. The meeting is conducted in a sensitive and caring environment where the client gets to tell their story once and for all. We ensure the meeting runs smoothly and we protect the interests of the client at all times. The Salvation Army then provides a verbal apology for the abuse, and an offer is usually made to provide an apology in writing.

The Salvation Army has established a Personal Injuries Complaints Committee (PICC) which decides what level of compensation to award based primarily on the seriousness of the abuse, and the level of impact upon the client’s life. The PICC has a “matrix” which it uses to assess each claim. The highest amount which can be awarded under the current matrix is $150,000. We negotiate with the PICC to ensure the best possible result is obtained for the client under the matrix, however we are constantly looking for ways to exceed the maximum award payable, such as through litigation. We keep our clients advised of their options throughout the process. We have negotiated several successful outcomes for clients. Our clients have received sincere apologies followed by written apologies. Some of our clients have had dental expenses taken care of, and the cost of counselling paid by the Salvation Army. Our clients have sometimes received financial ‘top-ups’ on previous settlements.

The process of working with Kelso Lawyers in a Salvation Army claim can be a challenging but incredibly rewarding experience. We can ensure your rights are protected throughout the process and that your confidential information is handled with the highest sensitivity.

About Peter Kelso


I am a solicitor of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. I have been admitted to practice since 1984. I am the principal and founder of Kelso Lawyers which has operated in Newcastle since 1986.

I have been an advocate for compensation for victims of abuse since the commencement of the Victims Compensation Tribunal in New South Wales in 1988. I conduct the largest victims practice in New South Wales. I have a high level of engagement with numerous NGOs such as woman’s refuges, sexual assault services, community organisations and healing centres.

On 31 October 2012 I was a finalist for the Justice Medal, presented by the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales.


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