In the late 80s and early 90s, children at a Victorian daycare centre "Mornington Child-Care Centre and Nursery School" run by Norman and Alison Shulver began disclosing experiences of organised and ritualistic abuse. Their disclosures included instances in which they were taken in a car from the creche to a nearby house, undressed by adults and forced to play sexual games, video-taped and filmed while naked, and urinated and defecated upon by adults. The children disclosed that some of the abusers wore police uniforms, masks and costumes.
In 1992, a government inquiry ordered that the daycare centre be shut on the basis that there was significant evidence that Norman Shulver had either participated in the abuse or facilitated it. This include forensic evidence that some of the children had been sexually penetrated. The police never pressed charges against the couple, who later fled to Queensland and, in a serious breach of privacy laws, published the names and addresses of all the complainant children online.
In 2002, Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon refers complaints about the mishandling of the case by police to the Victorian Ombudsman. An officer from the Ethical Standards Department is stood down from the Ombudsman's investigation for "incompetence" after failing to pass on information from two key witnesses, and claiming that he never spoke to them when phone records proved that he had. In 2004, former Young Australian of the Year and psychologist Dr Reina Michaelson alleged the Ombudsman's investigation is marred by corruption and calls for an urgent royal commission into organised pedophilia in Victoria.
Her allegations are supported by a 2004 report by the Office of Police Integrity, which found that the police investigation into the disclosures of the children at the preschool was inadequate. In one instance, a videotape showing men dressed as police officers sexually assaulting children from the centre disappeared from the police evidence locker.
You can read the relevant press reports below.
A private child-care centre in Mornington was deregistered yesterday when a Government inquiry found that children attending the nursery had been sexually abused.
The inquiry, conducted by the Office of Pre-School and Child Care, found that the centre's proprietors allowed the abuse or were themselves involved in it.
The owners of the Mornington Child-Care Centre and Nursery School, Norman and Alison Shulver, were found to be unsuitable to run a child-care centre.
Last night, the Minister for Community Services, Ms Setches, who is responsible for the Office of Pre-School and Child Care, said the centre was closed yesterday.
The chairwoman of the inquiry, Ms Ann Sherry, who released the findings late yesterday, said in her judgment: ``There is a substantial amount of evidence that the person or persons who actually committed the acts of abuse may have included Norman Shulver.'' But the Shulvers' counsel, Mr Stephen Myall, said Mr and Mrs Shulver rejected all allegations against them and would appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision. He said they would not be speaking to the media.
Ms Sherry, who found that the wellbeing and safety of children could not be guaranteed or provided for at the Mornington Child-Care Centre and Nursery School, cancelled the school's registration under the Health Act.
In her judgment, she said the fact that the abuse occurred while the children were the ``responsibility of the Shulvers, probably at a location away from the centre, is sufficiently serious in any consideration of whether they are suitable persons to be proprietors of a child-care centre''.
Police are continuing a separate investigation into allegations that more than 20 children from the centre were abused. Inspector Vicki Fraser, in charge of the child exploitation unit, said about 20 children from the creche, up to four years old, had been interviewed.
A spokesman for parents of children at the centre, Mr Ralph Percy, said about 30 parents believed that their children had been abused and at least 15 had given statements to police.
The inquiry heard evidence from 12 parents about alleged abuse of nine children who attended the private centre in Parwan Crescent.
The coordinator of the sexual assault centre at the Monash Medical Centre, Ms Jan Southgate, said yesterday that 15 children from the creche had been or were receiving counselling at the clinic.
Earlier this year, Mr and Mrs Shulver changed the name of their centre to the Peninsula Child-Care Centre. However, a spokeswoman for the Office of Pre-School and Child Care said the new name had not been registered with the office.
Ms Sherry said there was compelling evidence from doctors at the inquiry that three girls had been sexually penetrated. In her decision, she said there was consistency in the events reported by parents, the behavioral patterns shown by their children and their impressions of the centre.
There was also consistency across the stories that the children told their parents. ``This is despite the fact that not all the children were attending the centre on the same days, nor even enrolled at the centre at the same time.'' Ms Sherry said the parents did not seem to know each other. She rejected arguments that the consistency of the parents' arguments was due to ``contamination'' - a suggestion that once parents heard allegations made at a public meeting on 16October similar allegations emerged.
She said the claim that this was made worse by the police asking children leading questions was not plausible. Nor was it likely that parents would subject themselves or their children to a police investigation and a public inquiry if they had any doubts about the truth of their children's information and behavior.
Three children had identified some sexual and frightening activity linked to the centre before the public meeting, Ms Sherry said.
She said staff of the centre gave plausible evidence when they said they were unaware of any suspicious activities at the creche.
Evidence given by Mr and Mrs Shulver contradicted evidence given by the parents about the way the centre operated, Ms Sherry said. Some parents had been told they were not welcome at the centre during the sleep time in the middle of the day.
``There were many inconsistencies also about whether children were bathed at the centre, whether children were ever taken out of the centre, with or without parental permission.'' Ms Sherry said regulations were consistently breached at the centre, and the Shulvers seemed to treat the breaches lightly.
The absence of a sign-in book, in which a child's attendance was supposed to be recorded by a parent or guardian, was a ``significant'' breach of regulations.
The Shulvers felt they had been wrongly accused of any abuse of children in their care, Ms Sherry said. ``Mr Shulver made reference also to being `guilty of running a very professional business'.'' Ms Sherry said there was a lack of logic in the argument that hearsay evidence should be given little weight and that children could not be believed.
She said expert medical evidence given to the inquiry showed that young children could distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate physical contact. She said a report on child sexual abuse by the Royal College of Physicians in London said the single most important feature in the diagnosis of child abuse was the statement by the child.
Ms Sherry said that although Alison Shulver had not been directly named as having committed acts of abuse she must share the responsibility for the alleged abuse having occurred. ``The weight of the responsibility for the children in their care fell equally on the proprietors.'' Ms Sherry, who is general manager of the Office of Pre-School and Child Care, said the inquiry into the Shulvers' suitability was not a criminal trial and was not a substitute for other activities undertaken by the police.
She said the office notified the Shulvers on 23 December last year about allegations of child sexual abuse made against them.
Ms Setches said parents of the small number of children still attending would be helped to find alternative care for their children.
Constant nightmares and aggressive behavior from toddlers who attended a private creche in Mornington first alerted parents about alleged wrongdoing at the creche.
The Mornington Child-Care Centre and Nursery School was deregistered on Monday when a Government inquiry found that children attending the centre had been sexually abused.
The inquiry found that the centre's proprietors allowed the abuse or were themselves involved in it.
Parents who testified at the inquiry and have given statements to the police said they started to become worried about their children in the middle of last year. Their children behaved strangely after they started to attend the child-care centre and some displayed peculiar sexual behavior.
Some of the children have told police that they were: Taken in a car from the creche to a nearby house.
Undressed by adults and forced to play sexual games.
Video-taped and filmed while naked.
Defecated upon by adults.
Mr Stephen Myall, counsel for the centre's owners, Norman and Alison Shulver, said the couple rejected all the allegations against them and would appeal to the Supreme Court against the inquiry's decision.
`The Age' has interviewed 13 parents whose children had told them they were involved in sexual abuse linked to the creche.
Inspector Vicki Fraser, of the child exploitation unit, said last night on Channel 9's `A Current Affair' that police had interviewed 40 children and obtained statements from 24 children that revealed that they had been abused. The police inquiry is continuing.
In one of the most severe cases, a mother who gave evidence at the inquiry said her three-year-old daughter told her that she had been kicked and punched. An examination by doctors at Monash Medical Centre revealed that the child had been sexually penetrated.
The mother said: ``My daughter said they played games where you watch each other play games without any clothes on ... She said there were big people there ... they watched them and took photos.
YOUNG children who cry out for help often struggle to be heard against the static of the mess that grown-ups have made of their lives.
In November 1989, a four-year-old Mornington girl told her mother that ``Norman'' had played with her vagina and her bottom.
Anna Walsh immediately removed Emma from Norman and Alison Shulver's Mornington Child Care Centre and Nursery School, a private establishment.
Ms Walsh reported the matter to the police. However, the case was closed within a month by the Child Protection Unit after Norman Shulver had denied Emma's allegations and the unit could not establish that sexual abuse had occurred.
Emma Walsh, as it happened, was one of the lucky ones. Today _ unlike children from 24 other families on the Mornington Peninsula, who continue to exhibit the unspeakable scars from their time at the Shulvers' centre _ she shows no signs of trauma from the alleged incident.
This week, almost two-and-a-half-years since that first cry for help, the Office of Pre-School and Child Care finally deregistered the Shulvers' centre, its inquiry having found that the couple had allowed the abuse or had themselves been involved in it.
Fifteen children, aged four and under, who attended the centre have told police and their parents they were subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
Three girls have been found by the Monash Medical Centre's sexual-assault centre to have been penetrated by a blunt instrument.
It is a case as horrifying in its allegations as it is in the glaring holes it has exposed in the system society has created to protect our children. Not only were these children savaged by events that continue to torment their dreams and distort their behavior; they have been failed by four key groups designed to protect them: Their parents, who took so long to understand the signs.
The State Government, which procrastinated and embroiled itself in red tape.
Certain sections of the police, who initially bungled the investigation.
A legal system that refuses to accept their evidence.
The three and four-year-old children are deemed too young to be reliable witnesses.
Many of the allegations gathered for this story were used in evidence at the two-week inquiry chaired by Ann Sherry of the Office of Pre-School and Child Care. She said in her judgment: ``There is a substantial amount of evidence that the person or persons who actually committed the acts of abuse may have included Norman Shulver.'' Some of those children have told their parents and police that they were urinated or defecated upon. Some said they were forced to play games with men wearing ``funny clothes'', some to play violent or sexual games with each other.
At least one child has told her parents of having her mouth washed out by Alison Shulver after Norman Shulver ``did pee pee'' in it. Another talked of having been under the covers with Norman.
Just this week, Cameron Round, aged four, told his father: ``Norman put sticks up my bottom, Daddy''.
Ricky Williamson, now four, watches his mother in a strange fashion as she steps out of the shower and will smack her on the bottom and attempt to lick her body.
Simon Parkins, whose daughter Ali, four, has continued to behave violently, wet her bed and wake up at night _ just as she did while attending the Shulvers' centre _ said he had lost his daughter's total trust.
``I have to accept that our relationship may have been tainted forever,'' said Mr Parkins. ``I also have to accept that Ali might never enjoy a normal relationship with a male.'' One Mornington woman, Klari Randall, has been charged with unlawful assault after she allegedly attempted to harm Alison Shulver with a motor car outside the centre last November. She is due to appear in court at Dromana in May.
Another Mornington couple, whose child attended the centre, reported that their house had been broken into twice, and death threats written on a mirror, just after they had made allegations of sexual abuse against Norman Shulver on Channel Nine's `A Current Affair' last November.
In January 1990, Community Services Victoria officers paid a surprise visit to the centre but were refused admission.
In November 1990, Nicola Waite noticed drops of blood on the underpants of her daughter Chloe, 3. Two days later Mrs Waite took Chloe to the family's doctor, who found nothing conclusive after an external examination of Chloe's vagina. (A year later, the Sexual Assault Centre examined Chloe and found she had been penetrated by a blunt instrument.) Chloe Waite was removed from the centre for a variety of reasons but Mrs Waite, unable to face her worst suspicions, was persuaded by her family to drop the matter.
In January 1991, two months after the blood incident, CSV returned to the centre for an official annual inspection. The Shulvers were found to have contravened regulations concerning staffing levels and record-keeping.
The department followed up its findings with monthly visits by increasingly senior bureaucrats. These continued until last September. Each time, those bureaucrats were ejected.
However, on 24 September 1991, a third little girl from Mount Martha told her mother something that pushed CSV's concerns into the background and, for at least 24 families on the Mornington Peninsula, opened a door to a world that has haunted them every day since.
Christina Brown's daughter Louise was masturbating in her bedroom. Mrs Brown recalled: ``Because I have an older girl, I knew what was normal and what wasn't. For days Louise's vagina had been red raw, and on this occasion I kept calling at her, quite crossly, to come out of her bedroom.
``Eventually I went in and asked her what she was doing. She said: `I'm playing the bottom's up and down game I play with Norman'. To be honest with you I went dead. I died. I was a happy person until that day but that part of me that died will never come back.'' In shock, Mrs Brown called a child-abuse group, which referred the matter to the Frankston Community Policing Squad, which, in turn, told the distraught mother to make up an excuse to remove her children from the centre _ her one-year-old, Jenny, also attended _ and say nothing while the squad carried out secret surveillance of the creche.
Within 10 days, however, a detective from Mornington CIB had confronted Norman Shulver at the centre and alerted him to Louise Brown's allegations. The same detective then returned to Christina Brown and informed her that Mr Shulver had been cleared of the allegations and that the abuse must have come from within Mrs Brown's household.
This was the first of a series of personal allegations directed at Mrs Brown, then an unmarried single mother, by Norman Shulver and centre parents who initially supported him. Far more traumatic, however, was the finding of the Monash Medical Centre's sexual-assault centre. It said that Louise had been penetrated by a blunt instrument.
Not only had Christina Brown been told to keep her daughter's allegations to herself to no avail; the Child Protection Unit only learned of the case by word of mouth, through the Monash sexual-assault centre. And the unit was several days into its investigation before it realised that an allegation had been made against Shulver two years earlier.
It was the Louise Brown story that prompted the unit's investigation, led by Sergeant Ray Carroll, to move quickly. Not only did she allege a series of incidents but she named six other children, all of whom were immediately interviewed and all of whom made allegations that corresponded with Louise Brown's.
The unit then obtained a list of each child who attended the centre from a Mount Eliza mother, Celeste Davies, who had held a birthday party the week before and still had all their names and addresses.
Another 12 families were almost immediately found to have children involved in other allegations, a number that has now swelled, following the interview of Ricky Williamson, to 24 of 40 families questioned.
Only this week, two more families who initially supported the Shulvers have changed their judgment and apologised to the parents whose reputations they attempted to malign. Carin Moore, 20, whose son attended the centre, remains the only vocal supporter of the Shulvers. She was visiting Alison Shulver when `The Sunday Age' visited the Shulver house on Thursday.
There is no reason to believe the staff who assisted the Shulvers at the centre were involved in any of the alleged happenings. Most worked there part time and were not present during the crucial ``sleep times'' in the middle of the day, a time when children allege a series of incidents occurred.
Mrs Davies, whose children were found not to have been involved in the allegations, told `The Sunday Age' that she had been struck by the strange behavior of some of the children at her daughter's party. ``One little boy started screaming as soon as he recognised some other children from the creche and his mother had to take him home,'' recalled Mrs Davies.
Wilma Fleming, the Victorian president of People Against Child Exploitation, said: ``Of course we need better guidelines for people running child-care centres. The evidentiary requirements are unsatisfactory too and further law reform is needed.'' Ms Fleming said she had grave doubts about a govermment move that would soon see initial responsibility for child-abuse cases taken from police and placed entirely in the hands of the CSV.
Christina Brown, Simon Parkins and another single mother, Penny Langer all spoke up about their children's allegations at a public meeting called by Mr Shulver, and to which he invited both print and electronic media, on 16 October last year.
The two women were shouted down by angry parents and friends of the Shulvers and accused of being ``sluts'' who entertained different men each night. Mr Parkins, an American, was also shouted down. ``It was mob rule,'' he recalled.
Some of the worst-affected parentsnow are those who initially supported the Shulvers and who refused to believe that any abuse had occurred. ``We decided to sit on the fence after the early allegations were made,'' explained Ken Williamson, a senior account manager in the computer industry who kept his three-year-old son at the centre until late November last year.
``I now have a very firm understanding of how paedophiles operate. They are not just into abuse. They are brilliantly clever, cunning people.'' Ricky Williamson, after joining the creche for one day a week in September 1990, took to urinating on his big sister from the top of the stairs.
Late last year he told his mother Cathy: ``The police are bad.'' When his mother asked why, Ricky replied: ``They'll shoot you, they'll punch you up, they'll throw you in the water so the sharks can get you.'' Several days later he told his mother: ``Santa Claus is bad. He shoots people.''
Several days later, in late November, Norman Shulver arrived at Mr Williamson's front door and insisted he read an 80-page copy of an interview Mr Shulver had conducted with police.
``He was very insistent so I sat up for three hours that night and read this thing,'' Mr Williamson recalled. ``The police were asking him about 18 or 19 families and the allegations were so horrifying I just went cold.'' Mr Shulver, who paid for a tape of his police interview to be transcribed, gave copies to several parents whose children attended his centre. Mr Williamson now believes that he gleaned intimate knowledge of all the allegations by reading the transcript, thereby leaving himself open to accusations of contamination by Mr Shulver's defence.
It is more than three weeks since Ricky Williamson was interviewed by the Child Protection Unit and revealed that he too had been subjected to a series of atrocities during his time at the Shulvers' centre.
``For an hour of questioning it seemed as though our son had not been touched,'' said Mr Williamson. ``He had no reaction to the so-called buzz words like `Red Kenny', `Fluffy Duck' or `Bark'. But then my wife went out and he was asked a certain question.
``Suddenly, my little boy was sitting on the edge of his seat, his head lowered and his little body tensed up. He started talking about this other person in funny clothes and games they played. He showed us some things quite graphically. At this point I was slowly dying. I had still been clinging like crazy to the hope that all this was wrong.'' Not only have the children's allegations placed enormous emotional and financial stress on the marriages of many of their parents _ at least four mothers have quit jobs or courses because they can no longer bear to leave their children _ but their stories have brought tears to the eyes of at least one policeman involved in the investigation.
Footnote: The names of the parents and children mentioned, apart from Celeste Davies and Klari Randall, have been changed to protect the identity of the children.