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Ian Dallas

Published: 14 May 2020
Author: Ian Dallas

Puffing Billy abuse payouts lead to political fallout

More claims likely

Recent media attention has again put the spotlight on sexual abuse at Puffing Billy.

The Age reported that the Emerald Tourist Railway Board has placed caveats over 10 lots of land owned by the Puffing Billy Preservation Society (“PBPS”). The properties were bought by the Society over 40 years ago, to allow Puffing Billy operations to run properly.

The fallout between the Puffing Billy Society and the Railway Board, as well as the State Government, follows recent settlements of claims for sexual abuse brought by clients of RCT Law which have resulted in very large six figure payouts.

The mounting financial claims are more than likely escalating tension between the parties concerned.

More compensation payouts?

The financial settlements have in the main been related to the criminal activities of Robert Whitehead and Anthony Hutchins, both long-time volunteers in railway activities at Puffing Billy and elsewhere.

We at RCT Law believe that many more survivors have yet to come forward, and who can expect to have large compensation payouts in prospect.

The lodging of the caveats, which appears to come as a surprise to Puffing Billing Society officials, suggests all is not well between the two organisations, and that there is a dispute as to the ownership of these properties. The legal basis for lodging a caveat is that the Railway Board claims a legal interest in the land, and therefore has the ability to influence whether and when any sale might be made.

In the past, the two organisations worked closely together to operate Puffing Billy, with the Board heavily reliant on the volunteer support of the Society. The Emerald Tourist Railway Board was established in 1977 by the Victorian Government to operate Puffing Billy, and reports directly to the Minister for Tourism.

Ombudsman’s criticism

The very close association between the two organisations was heavily criticised by the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass in her stinging 2018 report into the historic child sexual abuse associated with Puffing Billy. As a result of that report, steps have been taken to separate the two organisations.

However, the recent action by the Railway Board to lodge the caveats does not speak well of the relationship between two groups who ought to be co-operating in keeping the much-loved tourist icon Puffing Billy running.

The Ombudsman’s report heavily criticised Puffing Billy management for its failure to protect children from the actions of predators Robert Whitehead and Anthony Hutchins. Since the release of that report, RCT Law has assisted close to a dozen clients to achieve very satisfactory settlements of their claims.

Future financial claims

Despite the ongoing difficulties in the relationship between the Society and the Board, at RCT Law we remain confident that any future claims can be resolved satisfactorily.

Indications are that Whitehead in particular perpetrated abuse on many more children who have not yet come forward.

The expert team at RCT Law is ready to assist all survivors to achieve a speedy and satisfactory settlement. To discuss your claim and the process we would use, call 1300 366 441 to make a free, no-obligation and confidential appointment.

Categories Sexual Abuse, Victoria

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