“Merry Christmas, Mr Walker” – Salvation Army officer from Gill and Bexley boys’ homes sentenced to 16 years imprisonment under tougher sentencing laws

Those were the words of a survivor on Monday as Judge Greg Grogin sentenced former Salvation Army Captain Russell Walker in Sydney to 16 years imprisonment. Mr Walker was convicted on for a number of sexual offences against six boys at the Gill Memorial Boys’ Home and Bexley Boys’ Home between 1971 and 1974.

Mr Walker’s offending is but one example of the horrific and appalling sexual, physical and psychological abuse that occurred in the Salvation Army’s homes. His case should provide hope to survivors that no matter how long ago sexual abuse occurred, offenders can and will be successfully prosecuted.

Mr Walker joined the Salvation Army in 1966 and held a number of positions before going to Bexley Boys’ Home from 1971 to 1972 and Gill Memorial Boys’ Home from 1972 to 1974. In 1974, Mr Walker was convicted of indecently assaulted two boys at Gill Memorial Boys’ Home.

He was arrested in September 2016 following investigations by Strikeforce Lehmann into allegations of sexual abuse at both boys’ home, following referrals from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He was charged with 33 historical sexual offences.

Mr Walker is one of many sexual offenders who have been caught by new sentencing laws in NSW, which started on 31 August 2018. The new laws require judges to apply today’s sentencing standards to historical sexual offences, rather than lesser standards that applied at the time of the offence. Judges are also required to consider today’s knowledge of the trauma of sexual abuse on children when passing sentence.

To illustrate the effect of the new laws on sentencing practices for historical sexual offences, one need only compare Mr Walker’s sentence in 1974 with the sentence he received this week. Mr Walker was convicted in 1974 of indecently assaulted two boys at Gill Memorial Boys’ Home but only received a good behaviour bond. This time, for those offences and others, he received 16 years imprisonment, despite being 76 years of age and in poor health.

The Royal Commission reported that the Salvation Army had by 2015 paid out over $250,000 to some of Mr Walker’s victims.

Turner Freeman Lawyers represents survivors of abuse in civil claims for child sexual and physical abuse. We have successfully secured settlements for many survivors.

We encourage survivors to contact us for independent, confidential legal advice, so that they may make an informed decision about pursuing a claim for compensation or applying under the National Redress Scheme.