THE Queensland Department of Child Safety has refused for 18 months to correct a file that falsely accused a man from Toowoomba of being a rapist who was jailed for fathering his own grandchild.
The 64-year-old man was told by the department to prove he was not a rapist.
When he presented a certificate from the police service saying he did not have a criminal record and a DNA blood test showing he was not the father of his granddaughter, the department still refused to believe him.
The man was banned from having contact with his nine-year-old granddaughter, and she was not allowed to stay with him and his wife for holidays, which she had done for the preceding eight years.
The grandfather repeatedly wrote to Child Safety Minister Phil Reeves, his local state MP and former attorney-general Kerry Shine, and the Parliamentary Ombudsman – all to no avail. When The Australian contacted Mr Reeves’s office on Monday, it took just three hours to confirm the error and for a departmental officer to be ordered to contact the accused grandfather and apologise for the “inaccuracy recorded in the file”.
The file contained details of a criminal with an identical surname and first initial, according to department officials.
The accusation of being an incest rapist was discovered by the grandfather last year when he sought access to his file under Right to Information legislation. One document, from August last year, alleged the girl “was a product of rape and the father/grandfather is now currently in prison”.
The grandfather yesterday told The Australian he was “shattered” when he read the document and immediately questioned it with department officers but was told the file would not be altered.
He pointed out the obvious: he could not be the person in the document because he was sitting opposite them, not in prison.
“Finally the DCS complaints officer told me that I had to prove I was not a rapist and had not fathered my grandchild,” he said yesterday, breaking down in tears.
“So I asked the police to detail my criminal history – there was no history of crime – and my wife and I sold our caravan to get the $800 to pay for a DNA test which showed I was not the father of my granddaughter.”
“Yet despite having this evidence before them, until your newspaper contacted minister Reeves, nobody would do anything, and we were warned about going to the media.”
The nightmare began when the grandfather sought kinship carer status for his daughter’s two children. She had difficulty looking after them because she was the victim of domestic violence from a drug-addicted husband who is in prison for stealing.
The application by the grandparents was refused, with no reason given. Instead the two children were put in foster care for several months until their mother was again able to cope.
The mother of the children yesterday told The Australian it was “abhorrent” to accuse her hard-working father of rape.
“What this department has done to my parents is indescribable,” the mother said.
Yesterday Toowoomba police held the grandfather in the watchhouse for 30 minutes after saying they had received a complaint from his DCS case officer, Nicole Steele, alleging that he had threatened her in a telephone conversation with other staff.
“I made no threats and I refused to give a statement, so they let me go,” the grandfather said.
“The apology given to me by the department meant nothing. Why didn’t it come a year ago – and what about all the money it has cost me in telephone calls and running around. The least they could do is refund the $800 it cost for the DNA test.”
A statement released yesterday, said Department of Communities acting director-general Bette Kill “has apologised to the person in this case for an inaccuracy recorded in his file”.
“The department will undertake a review of the file and confidential information handling procedures to ensure an issue such as this does not happen again,” the statement said.
Tony Koch and Amanda Gearing