Allegations that Save The Children staff working on Nauru encouraged asylum seekers to self-harm to get off the island have been further undermined, after a key former Department of Immigration employee Gregory Lake denied ever coming into contact with evidence supporting such claims.
Lake, who formerly served as a Director of Offshore Processing for the Department, was drawn back into the public spotlight on Monday night when a Lateline investigation linked him to the Moss Review – a government inquiry into allegations of ‘self-harm coaching’ and sexual assault on Nauru.
Speaking to New Matilda yesterday, Lake said he was not aware of any instances in which Save The Children staff had encouraged self-harm.
“I can say unequivocally that I have never had any experience which suggests Save The Children staff coached people to self-harm,” he said.
“There’s never been any evidence to suggest that, that I’ve ever seen.”
According to Lateline, key witness and Wilson Security employee Lee Mitchell was unable to provide “specific evidence” that Save The Children staff had coached self-harm. So instead, he pointed to reports prepared by Lake to back his claims.
“I’m feeding back to Lake’s comments in July. He says he knows this goes on. Coaching absolutely does go on,” Mitchell reportedly told the Moss review.
But as Lake pointed out to New Matilda, he left the Department in April 2013 – well over a year before the allegations surfaced – and when he worked on Nauru there were no children held in the detention centre, and Save The Children, therefore, had no presence on the island.
Lake has previously aired allegations that asylum seeker advocates have coached self-harm, allegations he reiterated to New Matilda.
But he said the investigation into Save The Children couldn’t possibly rely on him for evidence.
“I have no idea if it took place in this instance,” he said.
Lake’s statements cast the situation in a new light, when the broader context of the Moss Review is considered.
The review was sparked after months of reports indicating serious instances of sexual assault had taken place in the Nauru detention centre.
But the day former immigration minister Scott Morrison announced the review, The Daily Telegraph published a story alleging Save The Children staff had been assisting detainees on the island protest, and coaching self-harm.
The Telegraph reported that an intelligence document provided to the government stated it was “probable that there is a degree of internal and external coaching and encouragement to achieve evacuations through self-harm action”. It did not provide any evidence to support the claim, however, and Save The Children rejected the allegations outright.
It now appears clear that the report which the Telegraph relied upon was prepared by Mitchell.
New Matilda understands that transcripts from the Moss inquiry record Mitchell telling Philip Moss – the former Integrity Commissioner heading the review – that he authored a September intelligence report relating to the allegations against Save The Children.
The report the Telegraph quoted was dated September 26.
These links were connected after Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young managed to get a hold of the intelligence report, and read it into Hansard last week.
Like the Telegraph article, the report contained an allegation of self-harm coaching, but no evidence to support that claim.
According to Hanson-Young, the lack of evidence in the document and the testimony of Mitchell aired on Lateline indicate the claims of self-harm are part of a witch-hunt which has led to the more serious allegations of sexual assault and abuse of detainees being thrust aside.
“The more we find out about this ridiculous witch-hunt, the worse it looks for the government,” she told New Matilda.
“This so called ‘Intelligence Report’, that was used to fire Save the Children workers, clearly isn’t worth the paper it was written on.
“It’s deeply concerning that the Abbott government is willing to invest this sort of effort into a witch-hunt while disregarding claims of abuse and assault in the centre.
“The Moss Report should be released, in full, immediately.”
The Moss Report is expected to be released any day, however, the Coalition has not guaranteed a full copy of the document will be made available, let alone the transcripts of interviews conducted by Moss.
In a letter to the Clerk of the senate, Assistant Minister for Immigration, Michaelia Cash wrote: “The Review Team spoke with a number of people, some of whom did so on the grounds that their identity would be protected. It is important that the Department consider those wishes in the context of any public release of report material.”
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