A person who bought a laptop from Launceston nurse James Geoffrey Griffin found child exploitation material on it and told police nearly 20 years before Griffin was finally charged with child sexual abuse, the Tasmania Commission of Inquiry has heard.
Most important points:
- In 2001, the buyer of James Griffin’s laptop told police: “I don’t want to think he works unsupervised in a children’s ward in Tasmania, given what I found”
- Griffin had started at Launceston General Hospital a month earlier and moved to the pediatric ward in September 2001
- In 2009, a police search of Griffin’s home found a “large number of photos of young girls,” with the case “submitted for information” and no disclosure to his employer.
The inquiry into the Tasmanian government’s responses to child sexual abuse will hold hearings for two weeks in Launceston, focusing on the health system and Launceston General Hospital (LGH), where Griffin worked as a nurse in the pediatric ward.
WARNING: This article contains content that some readers may find distressing.
In her opening address, counsel assisting the commission told Elizabeth Bennett SC at the hearing that James Griffin’s case was one of “familiarity, rumor and fear,” and that he had interacted with children through his work as a nurse, a volunteer ambulance officer, korfball volunteer, about the Spirit of Tasmania and at the Ashley Youth Detention Centre.
“We recognize that some people have chosen not to speak to the committee and we respect their decision and recognize that parts of the story may go untold.”
Ms Bennett told the committee that Griffin sold his laptop to someone in the late 1990s, who then connected him to the Internet in 2000 and found child exploitation material and links to child pornography websites.
She said that person lodged a complaint with Tasmania Police in September 2000, but that counsel was “unable to determine the outcome of that complaint”.
Ms Bennett told the inquiry that the complainant sent an email to the police in March 2001, saying he was concerned that they had not heard anything about their complaint about the “registered nurse named Jim Griffin in the Launceston area who, according to I have ties to Internet pornography involving minors based on the contents of the computer he owned”.
“I don’t want to think that he is working unsupervised in a children’s ward in Tasmania from what I have found,” Ms Bennett read from the complainant’s email.
Griffin had started at the LGH a month earlier and in September 2001 he moved to the children’s section, Ward 4K.
Long list of complaints, warnings before charging Griffin
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 so again.
“We don’t know if this is his first breach, and the state of records at the hospital will be a major 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 told to have a meeting about “boundaries.”
Ms Bennett said a letter with results on the 2004 and 2005 cases has been forwarded to the hospital’s human resources department.
Ms. Bennett told the investigation that another border crossing was identified in 2009 when Griffin offered to stay overnight with a young female patient and not long after, he was seen hugging a pre-teen girl at the LGH.
She said there were also documented reports around this time that Griffin had given his phone number to patients.
The investigation found that Griffin was advised and warned that if complaints were to be made in the future, the cases may need to be referred to the hospital’s nursing director.
In March 2009, Tasmania Police received a report that Griffin had “skimmed” young girls (taken photos of their skirts) while working as a medic on the Spirit of Tasmania ferry.
Police searched Griffin’s home and found that he daily cleared his Internet browsing history and had “a large number of photos of young girls”, but Ms. Bennett said the case was “inquiries” and there was no record. that Tasmania Police have formally notified the LGH.
She listed further cases of “inappropriate contact” by Griffin in 2009 and said he was advised of his professional limits regarding deviating from a patient’s plan of care and also told to stop emailing former patients.
In November 2009, there was a complaint from a patient’s mother who was concerned that Griffin would be around her child after hearing staff say he was a “womanizer and a sleaze.”
Ms. Bennett said a few years later that a woman who was abused by Griffin as a child saw him working in the pediatric ward and told the hospital’s HR department about her abuse.
That woman and her line manager will testify in the investigative hearings later.
Ms Bennett went on to say further concerns were raised by a patient’s mother in 2013, and Griffin was “advised”.
In May 2013, Tiffany Skeggs’ mother reported her concerns about Griffin’s behavior to the police.
The investigation found that in March 2015, Tasmania Police received “credible information” that Griffin was discussing child abuse online, and police said they would wait for more information from their source before taking any further steps, but no action was taken. .
Later that year, Griffin was ordered not to sit on or cuddle the patients’ beds after concerns were raised that he was “crossing boundaries” with a mental patient.
Ms. Bennett said Griffin called and texted another patient that year as well.
In March 2017, a young female patient expressed her discomfort with male nursing staff at night, including Griffin, and Ms Bennett said hospital notes stated she was concerned about “being touched and being called pet names like baby or sweetheart”.
At this point, the staff was reassigned and Griffin received another letter about his “professional limits” and was told that if there was no change in behavior, the matter may need to be escalated to the director of nursing for further investigation.
Further concerns and reports followed, until Tiffany Skeggs reported her abuse to Tasmania Police in 2019 and “the police at that stage undertook a full investigation”, including the 2015 tip of child exploitation material.
It wasn’t until mid-2019 that the LGH suspended Griffin after Tasmania Police advised them on child exploitation material found in his home.
Other victims turned themselves in to police and Griffin was charged with sexual intercourse with a juvenile, eight indecent assault charges and three material offenses related to child exploitation.
He was released on bail and died by suicide in October 2019.
“The most significant impact of Griffin’s arrest and death has been on the victims of his crimes, both known and unknown, who have not seen Griffin appear in court,” said Ms. Bennett.
“The question that is no doubt being asked by many patients of Ward 4K and their families and loved ones is, ‘Was I or anyone I know a victim of the nurse I called Jim?’”
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