Allegations of Abuse in Institutions

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Index 2006

The Press
November 1 2006

Salvationist's sordid secrets

by John Keast and Helen Murdoch

John Gainsford worked the long fingers of his right hand into the tanned skin of his face as complainants gave evidence against him.

It was as though he was trying to remember. Or forget.

Day after day it was the same, as the evidence became more graphic and damning Gainsford began to knead his face, averting his eyes.

He listened to eight complainants, seven women and a man, tell of their time at the old Bramwell Booth children's home in South Canterbury.

One by one they described a catalogue of offending and misery that is difficult to comprehend.

The jury rejected the evidence of Gainsford, who ran the Temuka home from January 1973 to January 1975.

Gainsford's contention was that he did touch four girls indecently he pleaded guilty to four counts of indecency but he denied the offending went further.

The Crown had a different view; that Gainsford created a fiefdom in which he was able to pick his victims, abusing them sexually and, in some cases, beating them.

In any event the jury rejected Gainsford's view of events, except on one count in which there was a dispute over whether an alleged indecency took place at Pleasant Point or Geraldine.

They found him guilty on 22 counts, possibly ending any chance of freedom for a man of 69.

That will be decided by Justice Fogarty at 11am on December 11, when Gainsford appears for sentence.

But if Gainsford was surprised by the gravity of the offending alleged from the witness box, he also had a surprise from the body of the court.

It came as he was led to the rear of the court when a man caught Gainsford's attention and then whispered: "You lying pack of s..."

That man used to live at Bramwell Booth as a boy.

Raymond, not his real name, recalls seeing Gainsford enter a building at night with girls, and no lights going on. He also remembers beatings.

They did not come from Gainsford, he says, but from a later staff member who has since died.

Raymond says it took him all his will not to strike Gainsford, who had just told the court that a cane was never used at Bramwell Booth.

Not so, says Raymond. He says he was caned mercilessly, and kicked and punched.

He believes it was punishment for seeing a staff member "doing what you should be doing with your wife with another staff member".

After that, he says, life was hell.

He entered Bramwell Booth as a boy of four, staying there until he was 11.

His nose was smashed and kicked so hard the staff member hurt his foot.

The beatings, he says, happened almost daily.

And Gainsford, he says, had a penchant for piggybacking the girls a key part of the evidence in court.

Each complainant said the same: Gainsford, the man whose job it was to protect them, would support them on his back, touching them indecently as he did so.

There was evidence that he did that while talking to adults, although he denied that was the case.

But although Raymond says he was aware of the sexual abuse, it was the beatings that ruined his life.

He knew he was bright, but regular beatings did little to enhance his will to learn.

After Bramwell Booth, Raymond drifted into rebellion.

And Raymond, now 40, says he has only brought some sense to his life in the past five years.

Staff at the home were told of the abuse and did nothing.

But Raymond, unlike many other victims, is no supporter of an official inquiry into what went on in various Salvation Army homes.

He says he has no wish to drag the army through the mud as his issues are with particular staff.

But Raymond says that for all his problems for which he was paid $40,000 in compensation by the Salvation Army he can only imagine the pain felt by those Gainsford was found guilty of sexually abusing.

Raymond wants the army to look after its victims, not just pay them off.

"They are an organisation that looks after people. Well, look after them."

Lives were ruined and the Salvation Army should address the issue.

And one of Gainsford's sex victims says his victims tried to speak out, but no-one listened.

The woman, who cannot be named, said "I told one Salvationist and one lay person at the home of the abuse. One was horrified and one was horrified I was telling them, but both said I was lying.

"And so I always thought no-one cared, no-one listened, but when she (surprise witness Christina Cullen) came forward again I realised that someone had stopped and listened."

Cullen approached police after reading day-one evidence in the Gainsford case.

She told the court that she took action (probably the catalyst for Gainsford being removed) after being told of home secrets by girls she took to a barbecue.

One said she did not want to go back to the home, and wanted to live with her.

The complainant says the sexual abuse was one issue, but there was also physical abuse.

"They would hit you with a strap, but put your head through a wooden chair so when you jerked up you hit your head as well," she says.

She says she has no sympathy for Gainsford, but felt for his family, who are also victims.

"When he looked at me in court and smiled I wanted to run I am scared of no man and he is the only person in my life I have ever run from.

"There was no safe place and when we heard another child crying at night we were glad because it wasn't us," the witness says.

Paraparaumu woman Jan Lowe, spokeswoman for the Salvation Army Abuse Survivors Group, says a public inquiry is needed to uncover the truth.