Friday, August 11, 2006

Travesties of justice: Gerald Ridsdale and his co-offenders

This paedophile ring (PDF) - based in Ballarat, and at its most active in the early 1970s – has never been tried as such.

On the contrary, the three worst offenders within the ring – Catholic (diocesan) priest Gerald Ridsdale (b. ~1936) and Christian Brothers Robert Best (b. ~1941) and Edward Dowlan (b. ~1950) (the latter two teachers and primary school principal and vice-principal, respectively) – have had their encounters with the law quite remarkably quarantined from each other. In addition, each of their solo trials (which were multiple, in two cases) saw considerable whittling-down of the charges against them, and therefore the eventual sentences received.

Of the three, Robert Best would have to be considered the paedophile’s paedophile, based on his getting away with it almost totally, so far. Here’s his legal lowdown. (Note: all following information is compiled from a number of sources; feel free to email me for specific footnotes.)


Best’s 1996 trial

(There were actually five trials, as separate juries were allowed upon the request of Best’s defence.)

CHARGES: Eight counts of indecent assault involving five boys.

PLEA and VERDICT: Pleaded not guilty; found guilty on two counts, re one of the boys (an 11 year-old St Alipius student, for conduct in May and August 1969) and not guilty concerning the other four boys.

SENTENCE: Nine-months suspended jail sentence.

Best’s March 1998 trial

CHARGES: Multiple counts [20+, at a guess] of indecent assault involving another five boys.

PLEA and VERDICT: Pleaded not guilty; found guilty on six counts involving two of the boys (for conduct between 1969 and 1971 at St Alipius) and not guilty concerning the other three boys.

SENTENCE: 24 months' jail (12 months minimum) jail sentence, quashed on appeal on 23 July 1998, when after three months in jail (the only time he actually served to this day, AFAICT), a new was trial ordered.


Best’s “not guilty” pleading tactic was not followed by the Ridsdale and Dowlan. As it happens however, both Ridsdale and Dowlan seem to have done very well out of their guilty pleas, with a huge proportion (about two-thirds) of the charges originally laid being dropped along the way.


Dowlan’s 1996 trial:

ORIGINAL CHARGES: 76 counts of indecent assault involving unknown number [I’m guessing around 20] boys. Note: “indecent assault” normally suggests groping/fondling (= sexual assault short of penetration), but Dowlan’s conduct included digitally raping one boy.

PLEA and VERDICT: In return for guilty plea, 60 counts dropped. Convicted of 16 counts of indecently assaulting 11 boys, aged 9 to 13, between March 1971 and July 1982 as follows:

• two counts for conduct at St Alipius in 1971

• seven counts for conduct at St Patrick's College (a Ballarat secondary school) in 1973-74

• four counts for conduct at St Thomas' College, Forest Hill, and three at Cathedral College, East Melbourne (either in 1972, when Dowlan seems to have briefly lived and offended in Melbourne, or c. 1975-1982).

SENTENCE: On 6 July 1996, to nine years and eight months' jail with a minimum of six years; reduced on appeal to 6 years and 6 months. In any case, Dowlan is long since a free man; having been released on parole in early 2002 (one report says September 2001)


Most convoluted of all is the trial-history Gerald Ridsdale, who has had three trials to date (most recently being sentenced today).


Ridsdale’s 1993 trial:

ORIGINAL CHARGES: Full details unknown, but was charged with indecent assault of five boys (one of whom was his nephew David Ridsdale) on 4 February 1993, and charged further on 17 February and 25 February.

FRIEND IN HIGH PLACES: Was accompanied to court by now-Cardinal George Pell.

PLEA and VERDICT: Unknown whether in return for guilty plea, any counts were dropped. Pleaded guilty to 30 charges of indecent assault (number of boys and other details unknown)

SENTENCE: On 27 May 1993, to 15 months jail. Served three months.

Ridsdale’s 1994 trial (committal in Warrnambool Magistrates' Court, trial in County Court before Judge John Dee):

ORIGINAL CHARGES: At committal hearing on 3 May 1994, charged with 151 counts total: three counts of buggery, two of attempted buggery, 54 of gross indecency and 92 of indecent assault. One victim from the previous (1993) trial was common to the fresh allegations.

PLEA and VERDICT: Between committal and trial (October 1994), 105 counts were dropped. Thus Ridsdale pleaded guilty to 46 charges. These were against 20 boys and one girl, aged between 10 (nine, in one report) and 16, as follows: five of buggery, four of gross indecency, one of attempted buggery, 30 counts of indecent assault on a male under 16, one of indecent assault on a girl under 16, and five of indecent assault (of a 16 y.o. male). The offences were committed between 1961 and 1982, in Edenhope, Horsham, Ballarat, Swan Hill, Mortlake, Inglewood and Apollo Bay. (Further count-by-count details can be found in Vicki Petraitis and Chris O'Connor, Rockspider: the Danger of Paedophiles (Hybrid Publications, Melbourne, 1999))

SENTENCE: 18 years with a 15 year minimum – a sentence he is currently serving in Ararat prison.

Ridsdale’s 2006 trial (Ballarat County Court before Judge Bill White):

ORIGINAL CHARGES: As late as March 2006, Ridsdale was charged with a total of 80 counts: 12 counts of buggery and 68 counts of indecent assault, in relation to 10 boys. Unknown if any victim from either previous (1993 and 1994) trial was common to the latest allegations.

PLEA and VERDICT: Between March 2006 and his trial in August 2006, 45 counts were dropped or modified . Thus Ridsdale pleaded guilty to 35 charges in total. These were against 10 boys, aged from six years-old, as follows: four counts of buggery, seven of gross indecency, and four of indecent assault. The offences were committed between 1972 and 1987, again in towns across western Victoria.

SENTENCE: On 11 August 2006, to 13 years, with a seven-year minimum. However, today's reports suggest that, taking into account the sentence he is currently serving, it is an effective additional four year sentence – i.e. prior to today, he would have been eligible for parole in 2009, but now has to wait until August 2013, when he will be aged 79.


What next?

It is unlikely that Gerald Ridsdale will be tried again. This is despite his only so far being tried for the sexual assault of a few dozen children (1994 and 2006 total, 31), when his real victim tally is almost certainly hundreds of boys.

To call such a travesty of justice is an understatement. One victim has recounted at least 12 suicides from his (and my) primary school, St Alipius, yet:

Judge White [today] said the statements told of a number of suicide attempts and possible actual suicides.

Then there’s Gerald Ridsdale’s currently-at-large co-offenders; one of whom is only 56 years-old. Scattered reports have suggested that further prosecutions of Best and Dowlan have in recent years at least been considered:

It is also believed that further allegations not to be acted on have been levelled against two of Ridsdale's co-offenders, former Christian Brothers Robert Best and Edward Dowlan, both of whom taught primary classes at St Alipius School, Ballarat. At Dowlan's County Court trial in 1996, the prosecution alleged that three St Alipius boys were each sexually abused by Dowlan, Best and Ridsdale. Ten complainants are believed to have made further allegations against Dowlan and Best.

Pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale will be investigated over more claims of sexual assault at St Alipius in Ballarat . . . [As well as questioning Ridsdale, police] will interview Christian Brother Robert Best over new allegations he had sexually assaulted a student at St Alipius . . . The two latest victims alleged that Ridsdale and Best assaulted them at St Alipius in the early 1970s. They are believed to have taken their complaints to the police sexual offences squad in Melbourne, which were then referred to Ballarat CIB.

I went to school at Cathedral College for 79 - 82 and was an alter boy also, Br Dowlan Br Toomey Lay Teacher Greg Horn the Priest Mons PennJones they were all pedophiles and raped practically every kid in the school on camps in classrooms in the back rooms of St Pats cathedral it was a pedophile ring no doubt about it I saw it all
Went to Cathedral as well between 82 and 87. Dowlan was a weird person and the more i think about how he use to hit kids and send them to the back the more it makes sense what this dirty filth bag did. Thankfully never got touched by him but many others around me would always comment on how he would hug them and hold them up to his crotch. Die you filth bag
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