TWO NSW government departments put 15 Aboriginal women through legal hell rather than acknowledge what was already known - they had been grossly abused at a remote state-funded children's home at Brewarrina.
A report published on Tuesday by the child abuse royal commission says the Crown Solicitors Office and the Family and Community Services department breached state model litigant policy "in multiple ways" when dealing with civil claims by former residents of the Bethcar Children's Home.
The home for disadvantaged Aboriginal children was founded in north western NSW in 1969.
It was funded by the state and run by married couple Burt and Edith Gordon between 1974 and 1984. It closed in 1989.
In October last year the commission examined the state responses to two attempts in 2008 by former residents to sue over the abuse at the home.
Six former residents gave evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of mistreatment by Gordon and others, including his son-in-law Colin Gibson. In one case a little girl broke her own arm rather than be alone with Gibson.
In May 2004 Gibson was convicted of a number of offences against several girls and sentenced to 18 years' prison.
Despite knowing this, NSW insisted each abuse survivor had to prove they were abused in separate cases.
CSO lawyers also argued every procedural point and failed to offer to put in place remedies for the plaintiffs, such as offering to pay for any costs incurred by filing separate statements of claim, the report says.
The case dragged on for five years and was ultimately settled by mediation and an apology in 2013.
But by then the departments had put the abuse survivors through the legal mill even though FaCS (then known as DOCS) had information from the 1980s suggesting children were at risk.
The commission also found failures by NSW police seriously undermined the effective investigation of the children's complaints and FaCS failed to adequately support the children who made complaints.
In the course of the 2024 hearing the current head of FaCS, Michael Coutts-Trotter, committed to changing the way the department deals with child sex abuse law suits and apologised for the "defensive, adversarial" way victims of the Bethcar home were dealt with.
The commission says the Bethcar case highlighted systemic issues around redress and civil litigation.
It has already submitted final recommendations on what it says needs to be done.
Abuse survivors are awaiting the federal governments' response to those recommendations, which are due out soon.