Two sisters who sued the state of New South Wales for failing to protect them from their abusive stepfather have been awarded almost $1.5 million in damages after an eight-year battle for compensation.
The women, known as TB and DC, were repeatedly raped and indecently assaulted by their stepfather when they were children in the 1970s and 1980s.
The payout marks the end of a long legal battle for the sisters, which began in 2008 when they sued the state and their former community services case worker for negligence in the NSW Supreme Court.
They claimed that despite knowing about the abuse and documenting their complaints, both the Department of Community Services (DOCS) and the officer did not report it to the police. They alleged that had the abuse been reported, they would have been protected from further abuse.
The former case worker, Carolyn Quinn, is now a high-profile child protection consultant and a former member of the NSW Carers Advisory Council.
Last year, the sisters lost their initial claim, with Justice D ruling that while the department had failed in its duty of care to report the abuse, he did not accept that the abuse continued after DOCS was first notified in 1983.
Justice Campbell ruled Ms Quinn did not owe the girls a duty of care and even if she had, she had fulfilled that duty by reporting the abuse to her superiors.
But on Wednesday, the NSW Court of Appeal overturned the decision and awarded TB $940,000 and DC $540,000. The findings on Ms Quinn were not challenged and she was not part of the appeal.
The court held the “shocking” abuse of the girls did continue after it was reported to DOCS.
The Court of Appeal found “the stepfather, who was clearly a shameful sexual predator, continued to avail himself of the obvious opportunity he had to sexually abuse the appellants during the period after notification to the department”.
The abuse began when the girls were aged five and eight. The court heard their stepfather raped and indecently assaulted the girls and took sexually explicit photographs of them.
He also beat them with a leather strap, threatened them with a knife and handcuffed them.
In April 1983, TB reported the abuse to DOCS and Ms Quinn interviewed the sisters and prepared a report. She also interviewed the stepfather, who admitted to the abuse.
At the time, he was facing charges of raping another girl and had an extensive history of sexual offences against children. But despite this, the girls were returned to live with their mother and contact with the stepfather continued.
DC and TB said their mother allowed him to visit the family home and keep abusing them.
It was not until 2001, when both women went directly to police, that their stepfather was finally charged. He pleaded guilty to nine counts of physical and sexual assault and was jailed for 10 years.
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