The Sun-Herald (Australia)
08 July 2012
The NSW Attorney-General, Greg Smith, is under fire for letting a senior staff member with links to Father Finian Egan block the release of government documents relating to the alleged paedophile priest.
Damien Tudehope, Mr Smith’s chief of staff, refused access to the documents despite once having worked as Father Egan’s solicitor. The priest was arrested in May and charged with multiple sex offences against boys and girls stretching back decades.
Mr Tudehope’s brother Anthony Tudehope, a barrister, attended the police station with the Catholic priest when he was charged.
Mr Smith used to attend Father Egan’s church in Carlingford and thanked him in his inaugural speech to Parliament for his ”Irish wit and pastoral devotion to his flock”.
Despite the web of links, it was Damien Tudehope who ruled that an application lodged by the NSW opposition under the Government Information (Public Access) Act was out of bounds. In his response, dated June 14, Mr Tudehope told Labor MP Adam Searle that documents relating to Father Egan existed, but would not be released.
The documents come under the categories of ”formal and informal briefing notes concerning Father Finian Egan delivered to or held by the Attorney-General” and ”reports from the Director of Public Prosecutions” in relation to Father Egan.
Mr Tudehope said there was an ”overriding public interest against disclosure”, saying it would result in the release of material ”provided to the minister in confidence”.
The Opposition Leader, John Robertson, called on the Premier, Barry O’Farrell, to take decisions on freedom-of-information requests out of the hands of people who know the accused priest. ”Why on earth would the Attorney-General think it was appropriate for Damien Tudehope to make this decision?” he said. ”The Premier should step in and review this decision immediately.”
Mr O’Farrell’s office declined to comment directly but said there was a ”range of mechanisms of appeal” for declined requests.
A spokesman for Mr Smith said: ”The chief of staff acted on the advice of the Crown Solicitor.”
The question of Mr Smith’s support for his former priest was raised earlier in the year when reports emerged he had dismissed the claims of one alleged victim as being motivated by ”getting $1 million out of the church”. Mr Smith has said that he does not recall making the remark.
Father Egan is on bail and has not entered a plea to the charges.