Launceston General Hospital staff groping in the dark about pedophile associate James Geoffrey Griffin

Nursing staff at Launceston General Hospital were told their colleague had retired and must respect his privacy when, in fact, he had been suspended over allegations of child sexual abuse, the Tasmania Commission of Inquiry has heard.

Keelie McMahon and her mother Annette Whitemore have provided evidence in the government agency’s child sexual abuse investigation, which this week focused on Launceston General Hospital (LGH) and James Geoffrey Griffin, the now infamous pedophile who worked in the children’s ward at the hospital. hospital for nearly two decades.

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Ms. Whitemore was a registered nurse and worked with Griffin, and their families became friends and went on camping trips together.

Ms. McMahon told the investigation that she was sexually abused by Griffin from when she was 14, around late 2011, but didn’t tell anyone.

A police investigation into Griffin was underway at the end of July 2019 over other complaints, but Ms Whitemore said an email had been sent to LGH staff saying “Jim had retired”.

She said the email said that “he will let us know when he wants a party, can we please respect his privacy and he will contact us if he thinks he is able.”

Annette Whitemore, with her daughter Keelie McMahon at a table.
Annette Whitemore (left) with her daughter Keelie McMahon.ABC news

Ms. McMahon said she didn’t tell anyone about her abuse until her mother told her that someone else had filed a complaint about Griffin.

“My first thought was, people won’t believe her,” Ms. McMahon told the inquiry.

“I didn’t want to make a formal statement to begin with, but then I thought about it and I was like, ‘No, I have to do this more for the other people than for myself.’”

Ms McMahon filed a police complaint in September 2019.

Ms Whitemore was still working at the hospital and said she told her managers what had happened and took some time off.

‘Please don’t talk about it’

Griffin was charged with child sexual abuse and child exploitation material in October 2019, but he was released on bail and died by suicide before he could be tried.

Ms Whitemore said an email sent to staff only said “a colleague had died”, without mentioning Griffin’s name.

“Then as nurses went straight into confidentiality, ‘please don’t talk about it,’” Ms Whitemore told the inquiry.

“So there was a sense that we couldn’t talk about someone we’d known for over 15, 20 years and who had passed away.”

“And even if he thought he’d done all these vile things… there were so many mixed feelings about discovering what he was accused of, discovering what he did to my daughter, and discovering that a co-worker had died.”

She told the inquiry that Nursing Unit Manager Sonja Leonard and Nursing and Midwifery Director Janette Tonks “tried to keep tabs on things, so they told us not to talk about it,” until clinical services director Peter Renshaw, returned. from abroad.

Ms Whitemore said trauma-informed professionals should have been taken to hospital right away.

“The feeling was it was just swept under the rug,” she said.

She said she had “no respect” for Dr Renshaw, who initially supported him.

dr. Renshaw is expected to testify later this week.

Manager thought ‘education and diversion’ would change behavior

Sonja Leonard, the former nursing department manager, told the investigation that she had instructed staff not to talk about Griffin’s death because no obituary had yet come out, and because she was trying to buy time to talk to HR and the nursing director. about what they should do.

“I have instructed staff not to discuss Mr Griffin’s passing, that we had had a difficult weekend, but if we could just focus on our work and our professionalism,” said Ms Leonard.

Ms. Leonard became the nursing ward manager — Griffin’s manager — in 2008 and said it wasn’t long before she became aware of bullying and a “dysfunctional” culture in the children’s ward, Ward 4K.

She told the inquiry that over a number of years she often saw Griffin meet young patients with a stuffed animal, and she was aware that as of 2008, Griffin referred to children in the ward as “babe,” “baby,” and “princess.”

Counsel assisting the committee, Elizabeth Bennett SC, asked Ms Leonard whether Griffin’s daily behavior of hugging children and calling them “baby” had been more or less accepted by her as “just Jim”, to which Ms Leonard replied that “it was everyone was accepted”. the staff, yes”.

A white hospital building with multicolored panels and trees in front of it.
James Geoffrey Griffin worked in the pediatric ward of the hospital for nearly two decades.ABC News: Luke Bowden

The investigation found that Ms. Leonard brought a series of reports and complaints about Mr. Griffin to HR or the Nursing Director, including that Griffin was hugging a child, going against a care plan, and giving his phone number to patients in 2009.

Griffin received warnings about “professional border crossings”.

Ms Bennett told her that by the time another complaint was filed against Griffin in 2017, it was clear he would not stick to professional boundaries with children.

Mrs Leonard: “I always thought education and diversion would change that behavior”

Mrs Bennett: “You’ve had that opinion since 2008, is that right?”

Mrs Leonard: “Yes”

Mrs Bennett: “It’s 2017 at this stage, is that right?”

Mrs Leonard: “Yes”

Mrs Bennett: “At what stage should someone just be removed from children?”

Mrs Leonard: “I’m not sure the answer to that question”

The investigation had previously learned that Griffin had been seconded to Ashley Youth Detention Center not long after a 2017 complaint about him making sexual comments to teenage girls.

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