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In the dark; Complaints against doctor kept secret

Saturday, 9th May, 2015

By Craig Brealey

Neither the Broken Hill Hospital nor any of Dr John Rolleston’s fellow doctors at his private practice here were ever alerted to complaints made against him in Sydney years before, a royal commission was told yesterday.

Boys who were molested by the doctor in Sydney in the 1970s have expressed concern that he was allowed to practice in Broken Hill for years after their complaints about him were lodged with health authorities, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse heard.

Three of the four witnesses to appear so far at the royal commission said that they had found out that Dr Rolleston worked at the BH Hospital and at his own practice without any restrictions, even though they had complained about him, one of them as early as 1977. 

Dr Rolleston came to the city in 1993 and worked as the Director of Medical Services at the BH Hospital for four years.

After that he established his own practice across the road from the hospital and ran it as the principal almost up until he was charged in 2011.

The doctor was jailed for four years in 2011 on 10 counts of sexually abusing boys between the ages of 14 and 15 while working as a doctor in Sydney. He later pleaded guilty to another 17 charges.

The abuse was committed between 1975 and 1981 in his surgery at two private practices and at the Royal North Shore Hospital. 

One of the victims told the royal commission that he was molested at the Royal North Shore where Dr Rolleston was the Medical Director of the emergency department. 

According to transcripts from the hearing, he reported the abuse to the Health Care Complaints Commission in 1998 and described their response as “completely useless”.

The HCCC did nothing about it and ended its investigation on the grounds of “no public interest”, the man told the hearing. 

“I do not know what the legal meaning of ‘no public interest is,” he said, “but if I were to go on the radio and say that there had been a pedophile working with children at the Royal North Shore Hospital and he was still working with children in Broken Hill... the public would have been very interested.”

He said the HCCC’s lawyers had told him: “It’s your word against his.”

“My response was usually: ‘But he’s working out in Broken Hill and is probably doing it to people there as well.

“I wonder if all of Dr Rolleston’s victims have been uncovered, particularly since there seems to be no victims uncovered in Broken Hill.”

Another victim, who later became a doctor himself, told the hearing that years after he had complained he looked up Dr Rolleston on the internet and was surprised to learn that he was still working, in Broken Hill.

“Even today I have lingering concerns that there may be other victims ... who may not have come forward due to shame, or that they may not have heard of his convictions,” he said.

Yet another said that, as an adult, he was at a party in Sydney when he met a relation of Dr Rolleston’s who told him that he had a practice in Broken Hill.

“This immediately made me very upset,” the man said. “I felt that there was a danger that, as he was practicing and there was no restriction on having access to patients, he might be doing to others what he did to me.”

He said he had lodged a complaint with the NSW Medical Board against Dr Rolleston in 2002 and, for the next two years, had been “brushed off” by the board, the Australian Medical Association, the Department of Community Services and the HCCC.

The royal commission also heard this week that in 2009, the NSW Medical Board inquired into three charges against Dr Rolleston and, pending the outcome, prohibited him from treating patients between the ages of 11 and 18.

It also ordered that he be chaperoned when seeing patients up to 10 years old and that he keep a log of those appointments.

But the following year, the Medical Board found that his log had omitted four consultations with patients between 11 and 18, and 22 with those under the age of 10. 

The Medical Board told the royal commission this week that Dr Rolleston had blamed an error in the paperwork, but that he had been “unable to explain why there were so many errors.”

The royal commission, sitting in Sydney, continues next week.

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