SA department failed to adequately probe threats against disabled man, Royal Commission told

SA Department of Human Services failed to probe threats against disabled man, Royal Commission told

The Disability Royal Commission has been urged to find that South Australia’s Department of Human Services failed to adequately investigate threats of violence against a man living in disability accommodation.

A threatening letter arrived at the home address of Mitchell’s family. The letter warned that their nephew Mitchell would be “abused with cruelty, violence, regularly and repeatedly” and might be poisoned or drowned.

Counsel assisting the Commission Kate Eastman SC argued the department did not take the letter seriously enough and did not properly try to find its author.

Peter O’Brien represented Mitchell’s Aunt and Uncle at the Royal Commission.

“Victoria and James say that there can be no doubt that, one, the DHS investigations into the letter were seriously flawed for the matters set out by counsel assisting,” he said.

Disability Royal Commission: Threatening letter not investigated

Mitchell is a 38-year-old man who lives with an intellectual disability. He resides in supported accommodation that the Department of Human Services operates.

On 3 March 2018, an anonymous letter arrived at the home address of Mitchell’s family, making a series of threats against Mitchell.

The letter read:

“Food… poison. Medication… wrong. Shampoo… what’s in the bottle? Acid. Bruises… how did that happen? …

“Going out… falling down stairs. How well does he swim? Locked up? Food withheld. Going through the windscreen… seatbelt unclipped.

“This little piglet is going to be abused with cruelty, violence, regularly and repeatedly.”

Mitchell’s family raised the letter with the department. Additionally, they filed a police report.

The family stated that the letter shocked them.

‘We all agreed that none of us felt that it was his core team of support workers that would do such a thing and we felt that because of that … we could actually stay calm, work through this, while investigations were taking place.”

Department did not investigate the threats

As time passed, the family began to fear that there was no appropriate investigation of the matter happening.

SA’s principal community visitor, Maurice Corcoran, told the couple in October he had met with a key department official who “confirmed that his unit did not investigate nor interview staff regarding the threatening letter”.

“So I remain concerned that this was never properly investigated by either the police or the [department] and I have stated this in my annual report, which will be tabled in parliament this coming Thursday,” Corcoran wrote.

The family told the Royal Commission they felt let down by authorities.

“We felt that any organisation that was worth its salt would take a letter like this and look inwardly at its culture,” James said. “What sort of culture was breeding this, that somebody felt at liberty to send this to somebody’s house? Those people knew where we lived, they knew where our children lived.”

Subsequently, in March, the Department re-opened the investigation. However, when they concluded the investigation there was still no identification of the author.

The family told the inquiry that this was the first correspondence they had received from the department. However, this more than three years after they got the threats against Mitchell.

Victoria became emotional as she spoke of how the fear they had for their nephew’s safety had been an “extremely heavy burden”.

“I am so pleased that I can now today release this burden from me because it genuinely has been so difficult to hold on to it,” she said.

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