In the carefree days of 1979, things were a bit different from the way they are now.
Teachers could take students on excursions and camps without other adults being present to keep an eye on things. They could be in a classroom alone with a student without anyone questioning them, and they could even give a student a lift to school if they happened to be driving by.
The Josephine Greensill case
That year, teacher Josephine Greensill organised for a couple of her year three students, then both aged eight, to camp overnight in a tent in her backyard.
It may seem a bit strange by today’s standards, but back then, when little was known or publicised about child sexual abuse, the community rarely questioned this kind of thing.
The evening passed without incident. Greensill, then aged 27, spent time in the tent, providing supervision and care. Her husband and children spent the night in the family home, just metres away.
Greensill probably didn’t give it a second thought. But years later, her world was ripped apart by allegations stemming from that fateful night.
The devastating allegations
In 2007, the former students, then aged 41 and 42, both told police that Greensill had sexually abused them on that night, having intercourse with both of them.
Greensill was arrested and charged, and a jury trial was held after many months of proceedings. Aged 59, Greensill was found guilty of nine charges of child sexual assault and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
In delivering her sentencing remarks, Judge Canon of the Victorian County Court said that Greensill’s “premeditated offending had poisoned and eroded much of the complainants’ lives.”
It was a devastating outcome for Greensill, who had always maintained her innocence.
Appealing the decision
But Greensill and her family refused to give up.
In 2012, Greensill appealed the decision to the Supreme Court, with three judges hearing the matter.
They overturned the jury verdict, finding that it was “unsafe and unsatisfactory [and] cannot be permitted to stand.”
Their judgment was decisive and scathing, and at the age of 61, after spending two and a half years behind bars, Greensill was finally freed.
Her appeal had a couple of key elements.
The first was that there was a high risk of collusion between the two complainants. Even though they had both denied speaking to each other since 1979, a detective who had investigated the matter gave evidence that one of the men had wanted to speak to the other before making his statement to police (the other had already made his statement).
The court found that the detective, against proper procedure, had put the men in contact with each other.
Another issue was whether the complainants, who at the time had not yet gone through puberty, could have been capable of having intercourse with Greensill and ejaculating as claimed.
Greensill’s legal team argued that “this scenario was previously unheard of in Australian sentencing law.”
The court also considered the lack of forensic and documentary evidence, as well as a possible motivation of financial payouts to the complainants.
Has justice been done?
It’s always heartening to know that justice can prevail in cases like this, but even though Greensill has been acquitted and is free, the nightmare will never be over.
For a start, she has to live with the anguish of those around her believing that she is a paedophile, that she ‘got off’ due to a ‘legal loophole’; which is far from the truth.
She can never get back the years lost to imprisonment, nor recover from the torment of being subjected to such heinous allegations, lengthy court proceedings and a jury that found her guilty despite the highly questionable evidence.
She has missed many things: from important family events such as birthdays, to being unable to support her sister through breast cancer, to not attending the funeral of her son-in-law.
She now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the ordeal.
Greensill’s sister told the ABC, “it’s outrageous that since her acquittal there has been no apology for what has happened to her, no-one has been held to account. We want a full investigation into this and we won’t stop until we get that.”
There has been no offer of compensation.
Currently under Australian law, there is no legal right to compensation when a person has been wrongfully convicted of an offence; even if they were never convicted by a jury at all, or if significant wrongdoing was found on the part of police or prosecutors.
Perhaps Australian governments fear that if they allow compensation payments, they will be inundated with claims.
It seems that at best, Greensill may launch a civil claim for false imprisonment, although such claims are notoriously difficult to prove and, having spent so much money proving her innocence, Greensill may simply not have the funds for such legal action.
Providing false testimony to a court of law can lead to perjury charges and even imprisonment. But as yet, no charges have been laid against the two complainants, even after the full Court of Appeal had been scathing about their evidence.
Indeed, it is rare for false complainants in sexual assault and domestic violence cases to be prosecuted under the law – even where there is no conviction and their lies have been exposed in court.
The need for an inquiry
There seem to be many grounds for an inquiry into how the original verdict was arrived at, from the manner in which police handled the investigation to how the trial judge directed the jury to consider the evidence. Yet despite this, there is no indication that there will be any inquiry at all.
No apology, no compensation, no charges against the complainants, no inquiry.
Even though Greensill has been acquitted, it hardly seems like she will be free from her ordeal for a long time to come, if ever.
As Greensill’s sister said, “if it could happen to her, it could happen to anybody.”