By Ellen Coulter - ABC News - 27.06.2022 - [AUSTRALIA] - [Jim Geoffrey]
A person who bought a laptop from Launceston nurse James Geoffrey Griffin found child exploitation material on it and told police almost two decades before Griffin was finally charged over child sexual abuse, Tasmania's Commission of Inquiry has heard. The inquiry into the Tasmanian Government's responses into child sexual abuse is holding hearings in Launceston for two weeks, focusing on the health system and the Launceston General Hospital (LGH), where Griffin worked as a nurse on the children's ward. In her opening address, counsel assisting the commission Elizabeth Bennett SC told the hearing that the case of James Griffin was one of "notoriety, rumour and fear", and that he had had contact with children through his work as a nurse, a volunteer ambulance officer, netball volunteer, on the Spirit of Tasmania and at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.
"We acknowledge that some people have chosen not to speak to the commission and we respect their decision and acknowledge that parts of the story may remain untold."
Ms Bennett told the commission that Griffin sold his laptop to someone in the late 1990s, who then connected it to the internet in 2000 and found child exploitation material and links to child pornography websites.
She said that person made a complaint to Tasmania Police in September 2000, but counsel had been "unable to determine the outcome of that complaint". Ms Bennett told the inquiry that the complainant followed up with an email to police in March 2001, saying they were distressed that they'd heard nothing about their complaint about the "registered nurse named Jim Griffin in the Launceston area who I believe is linked with internet pornography involving minors based on the content of the computer he owned".
"I do not want to think he is working in a kids ward in Tasmania unsupervised, given what I have found," Ms Bennett read from the complainant's email.
Griffin had already started at the LGH a month earlier, and in September 2001 he went to the paediatric ward, Ward 4K. Long list of complaints, warnings before Griffin charged Ms Bennett listed a series of complaints made about Griffin during his time at the LGH, beginning in 2004 when he received a written warning about hugging an adolescent patient and was asked not to do it again. "We do not know if this is the first such breach by him, and the state of record-keeping in the hospital will be a key area of concern," Ms Bennett said.
She said that in 2005, Griffin kissed an 11-year-old patient on the forehead with what was described as a "wet kiss" and was directed to have a meeting about "boundaries".
Ms Bennett said an outcome letter regarding the 2004 and 2005 matters was forwarded to the hospital's human resources department.
Ms Bennett told the inquiry that in 2009, a further boundary breach was identified when Griffin offered to stay overnight with a young female patient and, not long after that, he was seen cuddling a pre-teen girl at the LGH.
She said there were also documented reports around this time that Griffin had been giving out his phone number to patients.
The inquiry heard Griffin was counselled and warned that if complaints were lodged in the future the matters might need to be referred to the hospital's nursing director. In March 2009, Tasmania Police received a report that Griffin had "upskirted" young girls (taken photos up their skirts) while he worked as a medic on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry.
Police carried out a search of Griffin's house and found that he cleared his internet browsing history daily, and "had a large number of photos of young girls" but Ms Bennett said the matter was "filed for intelligence" and there was no record that Tasmania Police formally notified the LGH.
She listed further instances of "inappropriate contact" by Griffin in 2009 and said he was counselled about his professional boundaries in regards to deviating from a patient's care plan and was also told to stop emailing former patients.
In November 2009, there was a complaint from the mother of a patient who was concerned about Griffin being around her child as she'd heard staff saying he was a "womaniser and a sleaze".
Ms Bennett said a couple of years later, a woman who was abused by Griffin as a child saw him working on the children's ward and told the hospital's HR department about her abuse. That woman and her line manager will give evidence later in the inquiry hearings.
Ms Bennett went on to say that there were further concerns raised by a patient's mother in 2013 and Griffin was "counselled".
In May 2013, Tiffany Skeggs' mother reported her concerns about Griffin's behaviour to police.
The inquiry heard that in March 2015, Tasmania Police was provided with "credible information" that Griffin was discussing child abuse online, and police said they would wait for further information from their source before taking any further steps, but no action was taken. Ms Bennett said Griffin was also calling and texting another patient that year.
In March 2017, a young female patient expressed discomfort with male nursing staff at night including Griffin, and Ms Bennett said hospital notes stated she was worried about "being touched and called pet names such as baby or sweetheart".
At this point, staff were re-allocated and Griffin once again received a letter about his "professional boundaries" and was told if there was no change in behaviour the matter might need to be escalated to the director of nursing for further investigation.
Later that year, Griffin was directed not to sit on patients' beds or hug them after a concern was raised about him "overstepping boundaries" with a psychiatric patient. Further concerns and reports followed, until in 2019 Tiffany Skeggs reported her abuse to Tasmania Police and "the police at that stage undertook a full investigation", including looking at the 2015 tip-off about child exploitation material.
It wasn't until mid-2019 that the LGH suspended Griffin after Tasmania Police advised them of child exploitation material found at his house. Further victims came forward to police and Griffin was charged with sexual intercourse with a young person, eight charges of indecent assault and three child exploitation material offences.
He was bailed and died by suicide in October 2019.
"The most significant impact of the arrest and death of Griffin has been on the victims of his crimes, both known and unknown, who have not seen Griffin brought to justice," Ms Bennett said.
"The question that is undoubtedly asked by many patients of Ward 4K and their families and loved ones is, 'was I or someone I know a victim of the nurse I called Jim'."
'Creepy' behaviour excused
A nurse who worked on Ward 4K with Griffin gave evidence at the inquiry.
Will Gordon, who began working on the ward in 2016, said Griffin was well-liked by his colleagues but some nurses found him "creepy".
He told the commission he once heard Griffin telling the parents of a five-year-old patient that the medication the child was about to receive was "the date rape drug".
Mr Gordon said on another occasion, Griffin asked him about his new partner and "whether she's still in school", which struck him as odd because he was about 28 years old.
Mr Gordon said Griffin also failed to follow chaperone procedures with female patients.
But he said Griffin's behaviour was usually summed up or explained away as "Jim is Jim".
Mr Gordon said until 2020, the culture on Ward 4K had been one of fear, with nurses feeling their concerns would not be heard or followed through if they raised issues about certain people, "in particular, James Griffin".
"We'd be told, 'Have you followed it up with James himself?'" he said.
In 2017, Mr Gordon made a complaint about Griffin after a group of adolescent female patients told him that Griffin had been giving them "advice" on boys, telling them "what boys like" and talking about the breasts of a woman at the hospital.
Mr Gordon told the inquiry he emailed the nurse unit manager, Sonja Leonard, who he said told him to put in a complaint via the department's reporting system, which he did, in a report that requested confidentiality. Mr Gordon said he never heard anything back.
Griffin was moved temporarily to the Ashley Youth Detention Centre not long after Mr Gordon's complaint.
Mr Gordon said he asked Griffin why he was leaving Ward 4K and Griffin "looked me right in the eye and responded, 'There's nothing but f**king dibber dobbers on this ward,'".
In 2019, after Griffin died, Mr Gordon took a photo of his report, because he had heard rumours that documents were being shredded, edited or deleted.
He said he believed his report had been altered to remove his opinion that Mr Griffin's conversation with the teenage girls had been "of a sexual nature", but the commission has found no evidence of this.
Mr Gordon made a complaint to the Integrity Commission about failures of LGH managers to act regarding James Griffin in late 2019.
He told the inquiry he also wrote a letter to then-health minister Sarah Courtney in early 2020 to relay concerns about a lack of action on Griffin. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact Dignity4Patients, whose helpline is open Monday to Thursday 10am to 4pm.