Saturday, July 15, 2006

Predator sustained by the state By Christine Jackman

Jeffrey John Hillsley
Originally uploaded by Sydney Weasel.
PEDOPHILE Bill Clare had spent years preying on the young, the naive and the intellectually impaired, before he finally raped and killed a three-year-old boy following three weeks of sustained depravity in September 2003.

Still, the unkempt and overweight 32-year-old was having difficulty understanding why he was facing jail.
Sitting before a psychiatrist enlisted to assess whether Clare was mentally fit in 2004 to stand trial for the repeated rape of the boy's six-year-old sister, Clare spared few thoughts for his victims, complaining instead of his own fears of being bashed and raped in jail.

He denied any knowledge of the charges he was facing, but also revealed to doctor Dong Tran that he had been having dreams about a young girl he had "played with".

"It's wrong to do that to a child," Clare said, before qualifying, "sometimes it's wrong".

Then, in a chilling insight into the dank recesses of a pedophile's mind, Clare could not help but elaborate further.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"It's not wrong to a certain degree," he insisted, if your assault targeted "only mouth ... no penetration of backside or vagina".
One police officer involved in bringing him to justice sighs and says this attitude is nothing new.

"I've had peds say to me, 'Yeah, I fiddle with kids'," the officer says, "as if it's a lifestyle choice, or like saying, 'Yeah, I'm straight' or 'Yeah, I'm gay'."

Stalking, grooming and preying on children - of either sex and of any age from infancy to late teens - was simply what Clare did. And he had become frighteningly good at it.

Two years after that psychiatric interview, the serial predator is finally being held to full account for his perversions.

Sentenced to 16 years' jail in late 2004 for the repeated rape of the little boy's six-year-old sister, "Bianca", Clare was convicted this week for the manslaughter of "Jeremy", having already pleaded guilty to anally raping the toddler (the children's real names cannot be used).

He will be sentenced at a date yet to be set.

The children's paternal grandmother, Judith Graham, gazes at a picture of Jeremy and his sister, taken just months before the little boy's death, and insists we, as a community, have not done enough to protect our children.

"They look too innocent," she says.

"They are too innocent - or they were, until these sorts managed to get their hands on them.

"(Jeremy) was such a lovely little baby, a lively youngster. And I just didn't get to know him ... I would like to see much more done, to make sure people realise these lowlifes exist in all walks of life, in many places. And a lot more attention given to making people realise how they operate.

"You just don't know who is around, thinking what, about your children."

Shocked by the grim details of Clare's crimes, as they were revealed in the NSW Supreme Court in Sydney, many parents may have comforted themselves with the thought that this sort of thing could not happen to people like them. Not to my child. Not in my neighbourhood. Not by my babysitter, or friend, or colleague.

But those seeking to protect young children have the odds firmly stacked against them - the sophisticated tactics of many pedophile rings often thwart a community services sector with a record of failing to intervene to protect at-risk children, a police service so overwhelmed it is reluctant to pursue such complex and legally tenuous investigations, and a welfare system that allows men like Clare to indulge their sick obsessions full-time.

Pedophilia is slow, painstaking work; there is a reason these offenders are called rock spiders, lurking as they do in unexpected places, weaving their webs in anticipation of the right quarry chancing their way.

Bill Clare could afford to be patient. Apart from an 18-month stint working in a bottle shop, he had existed at the expense of the taxpayer most of his adult life. Claiming a disability pension for

a range of amorphous complaints - in one police interview he listed "short-term memory loss, stress, trauma and depression" - Clare shared a squalid one-bedroom Housing Commission flat with another pensioner, former council worker Keith Coles, described by Clare as a "father figure".

By the men's own account, their taxpayer-subsidised days were mainly spent smoking, drinking - "I just love drinking," Clare told Dr Tran. "Nothing will stop me drinking" - and watching an endless stream of television and videos.

Regularly drinking more than a carton of beer a day, Clare's status as a disability pensioner also allowed him to develop a cheap habit of "dropping" anti-depressants. By the time he encountered Bianca and Jeremy, the man was regularly taking up to eight times his prescribed daily dose of 50mg of Zoloft, subsidised again by the public purse.

Nobody, it seems, was in a hurry to encourage Clare to work. When bored at home, he and Coles would amble down the main street of Croydon, in Sydney's inner west. There, Clare would often sit outside the video store or hang around the train station, making casual conversation with random passers-by.

Except there was nothing casual or random about it.

"They look for vulnerable mums, usually single mums, who aren't coping, who have issues like gambling or drugs or prostitution," says one police officer.

"Generally the kids are vulnerable too - obviously because mum is struggling or neglecting them -- but often they are also developmentally delayed ... That's the ones Clare targeted, the DDs."

Clare didn't give a resume or frank personal history when he saw a woman and two fractious children trudging from the station on a wintry afternoon in 2003, and offered his services as a babysitter because she "looked like she needed a break".

If he had, "Renae Lennon", a prostitute and nursing home worker, would have been alerted to the tawdry background of a man who has since admitted to "playing with the private parts" of his foster sister and "occasionally" brothers, as well as schoolmates, from the time he was made a state ward at the age of five.

With a stated preference for girls between three and 10 years old - "I'm always fantasising about having sex with young girls," he told one doctor - Clare was thrown out of his foster home at the age of 15 for interfering with his seven-year-old sister.

He left school without finishing Year 9 and was convicted of his first sexual offences - for inciting boys aged between 14 and 17 to commit homosexual acts, with each other or sometimes with Clare, in front of a camera - before he turned 20.

Three years later, he was sentenced to a minimum of three months' jail for having sexual intercourse with an intellectually impaired young woman.

During the next few years he honed his grooming technique to what would become his standard modus operandi: targeting harried mothers and offering to babysit for them.

In 1994, Clare befriended and moved in with a woman living in Woolloomooloo, offering soon afterwards to babysit her five-year-old daughter two nights a week so she could play bingo. It gave him the perfect opportunity to groom, then abuse, the young girl, touching and blowing on the five-year-old girl's vagina. In what would become a familiar excuse, he claimed to have suffered short-term memory loss about the incident, but was convicted of the indecent assault of a child under 10.

Far from being rehabilitated, jail simply offered Clare the opportunity to network with other pedophiles. Few other inmates will deign to interact with rock spiders - indeed, like many of his ilk, Clare has spent much time in protective custody to shield him from attacks - so child sex offenders get plenty of time to swap information among themselves and share tricks of the trade.

During one prison stint, Clare met Daniel O'Sullivan, currently serving time behind bars for other child sex offences, who would become another of Clare's "father figures" and a key member of a tightknit pedophile ring that has ruined the lives of countless children in NSW.

For Clare, and the four other known members of his network (one of whom has since committed suicide, stepping in front of a train before other charges could be pressed against him) meeting Renae Lennon and her two gorgeous blond children on a cold winter's day in 2003 was like hitting the jackpot, a pay-off for much patience and plotting.

Renae had a history of leaving Bianca and Jeremy unsupervised, or in houses so filthy the authorities considered them unfit for habitation by children, or with unsuitable carers, including one, and possibly two, previous boyfriends who had sexually assaulted Bianca.

And while the welfare system had supported Clare, apparently without question, as he pursued his twisted obsessions, the Department of Community Services had comprehensively failed Bianca and Jeremy.

During the three short years of Jeremy's life, no fewer than three police officers, a teacher, a childcare worker, a nurse, two or three doctors, a hospital social worker, ambulance officers and at least one neighbour had contacted DOCS with concerns about the children's wellbeing.

The tiny, closeknit pair had been the subject of seven formal DOCS notifications, but their files were repeatedly closed without further investigation and despite assurances by caseworkers that they were working with the mother.

A damning review by NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour said the case highlighted a "lack of rigour within DOCS".

Certainly, there were no caseworkers "working with the mother" when Renae agreed to leave her two children with Clare. She had spied a bargain; with childcare in Sydney's inner west costing her $100 a day, Clare had offered to have the kids full-time for $30 a day, plus a weekly carton of beer.

She neither asked for the men's last names, nor left a contact telephone number when, a week or so later, she left her children in the permanent full-time care of Clare and Coles.

Bianca had been sent home from school with headlice, which Renae insisted she had no time to treat. Her daughter was not seen at school again.

Much of what the children suffered during the next three weeks will never be known. Jeremy is dead, with only the esoteric details of post-mortem reports as testament to the horrors he endured before his small body finally gave up the fight to live.

Bianca is now a ward of the state, and continues to receive counselling, suffering what one psychiatrist called "post-traumatic amnesia" and "dissociation", a state of denial that children adopt to try to erase horrific experiences from their memories.

In the days immediately after Jeremy's death, she would tell police she couldn't talk about Clare because she "forgot all about it" and besides, "Mum won't let me ... because I get into trouble if I do".

But days later, in a further police interview, Bianca opened a window, albeit briefly, on to the ordeal she had lived through.

It appears Clare raped her on the "first night" she spent in his care, although it is not certain whether the little girl meant the first night Clare spent babysitting at Renae's apartment, or the first night the children moved in with Clare and Coles.

Bianca told police that after the attack, Jeremy had woken and spied blood on his sister.

"I think there was lots, I don't remember because I was still asleep," she said, in what psychologists report is a fairly common attempt by abuse victims to remove themselves from their own experience.

Asked how the blood got there, Bianca replied: "From (Bill) putting his balls up me."

"It was the night and he suffocated me first and then he tried to do that to me," she continued. "He put a blanket on my face and he ... I couldn't breathe properly."

But with the feistiness of a survivor who had already experienced too many acts of betrayal and abuse, Bianca then confronted her attacker: "I said to him, 'I don't know what you did to me, you suffocated me'."

According to his victim, Clare then said: "Bianca, Bianca, I'm really sorry."

But not sorry enough. Clare went on to rape the little girl five times between September 7 and 14. In August, 2004, he pleaded guilty to eight charges related to those offences.

But not even this could satiate his perverted appetite. In the pedophile's world, a conquest is often not complete until it is shared by the rest of the "ring".

Indeed, some offenders are what police call "voyeurs", rarely committing acts of abuse themselves, but happy to procure children and watch others defile them.

Others want in on the action.

On the day before Jeremy died, two things occurred at the Clare-Coles flat which are typical of the operation of a pedophile ring.

The first is that Daniel O'Sullivan, enjoying a stint out of jail, caught the train down from Lithgow to spend the night in Sydney.

Appearing as a witness in the Clare trial, O'Sullivan said the purpose of the flying visit was to show the children's mother some sketches he had drawn (although it is not clear whether Renae had ever met O'Sullivan previously - or did during that trip).

O'Sullivan testified he was met by Clare at Croydon train station at about midday. After a brief visit to Renae's, he returned with Clare and the children to their crowded flat, where the group watched television before O'Sullivan went to sleep on the couch and Jeremy slept on the floor.

The convicted child sex offender - who has not been charged with any matter relating to the Clare case - said he could not recall where Bianca slept. He left "probably around 10am the next morning".

O'Sullivan testified he saw nothing unusual that night.

But at some time on the same day, Friday, September 12, in the lounge room of the same crowded flat, Clare made a pornographic home video of himself assaulting Bianca.

Throughout the video, there are shots of Jeremy, apparently sleeping on the floor in the background.

The sordid tape was to be Clare's undoing.

Three days later, police investigating Jeremy's death would find it, in Clare's VCR.

How it came to be made without Coles's or O'Sullivan's knowledge, which they both have claimed, remains a mystery. Who had watched it on playback later in the same crowded loungeroom is also unknown.

For his part, Clare adopted a fairly typical tactic when questioned about the video: he blamed the victim.

Bianca took her clothes off without his encouragement, he told police, "cos she wanted to see what her thingybob looks like on the ... screen".

According to Clare's twisted logic, the little girl "wanted to try" sucking his penis and "asked me if I wanted to rub my thing up and down hers. She wanted it taped".

Later in the same interview, however, he changed his story slightly, conceding he asked Bianca if he could film the act.

"(It) felt nice, but it was wrong," he said. "I think I said don't tell anyone."

The video also includes footage shot later, featuring a tousled blond boy laughing and tussling with his sister. In court, medical experts would agree that there was no indication that this healthy, boisterous child would die the next night.

The same experts would battle to explain why any adult -- even one who, like Clare, had admitted to anally raping the boy -- would deliberately administer several 240-volt electrical shocks from the exposed wires of a power cord to the body of a child.

"That's clearly enough to kill an adult, let alone a child," forensic pathologist Allan Cala told the court.

According to Clare, he was trying to "jump-start" the boy's heart after the toddler ate too many party pies at dinner and subsequently choked on vomit in his sleep.

But in an alternative posed by the prosecution, Jeremy may have choked on vomit triggered by prolonged screaming in pain, as he was being violated by the same man who had spent a week preying on his sister.

Ultimately, however, the jury would not be convinced that Clare was responsible for murdering the child, finding him guilty instead of manslaughter.

After determinedly sitting through the gruesome trial, only leaving the courtroom when the video footage of her grandchildren playing on the day of Jeremy's death was played, Judith Graham says the verdict is a mere "slap on the wrist".

"They must be put away," she says. "But even so, they get into jail, meet others like them and just come out the other end wiser and more dangerous. That's why I think they should be put away forever."

At the end of a police interview conducted five days after Jeremy's death, Clare was asked if he had anything to say. "The only thing I want to say is that I shouldn't have done it," he said with the remorse of one whose regret is that he has been caught out. "I'm an idiot. I'm always f..king my life up."

Like so many pedophiles, it remained all about him. Apparently, it didn't occur to Clare to express pity for anyone but himself.

To the end, this week in court, there was no acknowledgement at all of a little boy who would never again have his say, nor of a little girl who cannot find the words to describe the horror that changed her life forever.