Debbie Garratt

Debbie Garratt

My son was found not guilty but he will never recover from what happened to him

More than 2 years ago my son was falsely accused of an assault against a minor following a single event that was misconstrued and which, by the time the police were through, became several charges of the most serious nature. It was distressing to learn how the child concerned was treated, with invasive physical investigations and leading questions causing her to change her initial report of an innocent event into something far more alarming.

My son had known the family since the minor was a toddler and cared for the children many times over a number of years with no suggestion that there was ever any inappropriate behaviour. The incident itself was a misconstruing of a normal childcare activity that with one phone call could have been resolved and everyone would have moved on.

Instead, my son’s photo was plastered all over the front page of newspapers, with outrageously exaggerated headlines that bore no resemblance to the actual accusation.  He was referred to as a ‘pedo’ in media that still exists and he received dozens of death and torture threats.

Nobody who knows him believes the accusation is true.  His friendship group is strong and they have rallied around him, however, his life and ours have been at a standstill now for 2 years.  He cannot work.  We have no trial date.  We have no guarantee that he will not spend years in prison. Even if acquitted this will tarnish the rest of his life and his safety in the community will never be guaranteed.

One judge at a recent court hearing was so appalled at what had appeared in the media about the case that there is now a suppression order in place to ‘protect him’.  It was too late.

We have already endured 2 years of waiting; of our lives lived on the edge not knowing what our future or our son’s future will hold.  We have paid out more than $80,000 in legal fees to be in the same place as we were 2 years ago when the accusation was made.  Our son has none of his own money.  We are spending our superannuation.  We also have no idea how much more money will have to be found to defend our son in a system that has declared to us directly that truth doesn’t matter.

Our son can’t get a job or go about his normal life due to restrictions on his movement even though he has not been found guilty of any crime.  Our own lives are lived on a knife’s edge, one day hopeful that justice will prevail, the next in a whirlpool of devastation, knowing that to date there has been no justice and that once accusations are public, no amount of truth will take them back.

False accusations, amplified by police and prosecutors who have no interest in either justice or the well-being of accused or accusers, are destroying the lives of men and of their families.  We never taught our children to say ‘no comment’ when police questioned them.  We never told them that they should say, ‘I want a lawyer’ when police asked them a question.  We never believed they would need to.  My son didn’t even understand the nature of what he was being questioned about when police approached him.

We have learned very valuable lessons, but they are lessons based on not being able to trust anyone.  Don’t trust the police. Don’t expect justice.

Now for the postscript, written two years later…

Following a four-day trial, three and a half years after the alleged incident, my son was found not to have committed any offence. The words of the Judge were significant in that she did not find a ‘lack of evidence’ but found the offence simply could not have occurred and that the child was mistaken.  After a number of published articles in the local news which had plastered our son’s face and name on the front pages, the result of the trial made a small article on an inside page.

This has given neither our son nor us a return to the lives we had before.  There will always be people who believe he simply ‘got off’ and is guilty.  He spent 7 months in prison and is changed because of that. He lost three and a half years of his life living under the shadow of fear about the rest of his life.

I gave up much of my work during these years as the stress of managing this situation took an emotional toll I wasn’t prepared for. Naturally, we don’t get any money back either. When you are charged with a crime you are forced to defend yourself with what for us was substandard legal aid services, or pay horrendous amounts of money regardless of whether you are innocent or guilty.

There are no winners here. There is a little girl who has been led to believe, over a long period of time, that she was assaulted. She and her family may still believe it. We are all forever changed.

Read more stories from mothers of sons who have faced injustice here