ABC News Australia
07 May 2018
A former detective, who was financially and professionally ruined by his own superiors for trying to bring a paedophile priest to justice, will receive compensation almost 50 years after he was pushed out of Victoria Police.
Denis Ryan gave up his police pension when he chose to resign from the force after being ordered to drop his investigation into Monsignor John Day, a Catholic paedophile priest who preyed on children in the Mallee.
The decision had a profound impact on his life, costing him a marriage and the prospect of a comfortable retirement. Until now, he has lived in a rented unit on the proceeds of an aged pension.
But a month after his plight was revealed by the ABC, the Victorian Government has reached a confidential settlement with the 86-year-old.
“Using a colloquial term, I’m out of my socks,” said Mr Ryan from his home in Mildura.
“Heck it’s a great, great thing to hear,” he said. “It’ll make quite a difference to me.”
Mr Ryan said he had no plans for the money at this stage.
“When I come down to earth, I’ll think about such things,” he said.
But on the question of redemption, Mr Ryan was much more certain.
“I don’t think I’ll ever feel vindicated,” he said.
“It’ll never leave my mind,” he said. “I just think of the victims, they suffered so much more than me.”
‘He was crucified for doing his job’
The details of the settlement have not been disclosed but it will be paid in a lump sum, according to Vernon Knight, who handled the negotiations on behalf of Mr Ryan.
“Denis is 86, he wants to live the remainder of his life with a measure of comfort and I guess validation, restoring some of the dignity that he would’ve lost over those years,” Mr Knight said.
“We actually quantified that and said, ‘Well wouldn’t it be nice if you lived in your own unit and you had a few bob to do some of the things that you would’ve wanted to do?'”
But many in Mildura’s tight-knit community see this as a recognition that goes far beyond the dollar amount Mr Ryan will receive.
“He was crucified for doing his job, for endeavouring to protect children and for endeavouring to call to account those who were responsible,” Mr Knight said.
“At long last, he’s had his day.”
‘Their allegiance was to a cathedral and not the people’
In the years after he resigned from the police force, Mr Ryan was forced to find work as a fruit packer and would later become mayor of the Mildura Shire.
But despite surrendering his badge, he pursued a relentless campaign to expose the role that Victoria Police’s most senior officers played in covering up for Monsignor Day.
In 2015, Mr Ryan testified before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“We do not doubt that Victoria Police transferred Detective Ryan from Mildura for investigating allegations that Monsignor Day had sexually abused children in Mildura,” the royal commissioners wrote in their findings.
Victoria Police officially apologised to Mr Ryan in 2016, but the weight of the force’s actions continue to weigh on him.
“I think very much of the then-children that are now adults whose lives have been shattered by the acts of a paedophile priest,” he said.
“At the time, Gerald Ridsdale, who’s another notorious paedophile, he would’ve been caught in the net if the police had listened to me … but they didn’t.
“Their allegiance was towards a cathedral and not to the people of Victoria that they’d sworn an oath to protect. They did not protect them.”
But Mr Ryan had a message for the Premier.
“I certainly want to say to the Government of Victoria, led by Daniel Andrews, when he heard this, he leapt into action and finished within a month what has taken 47 years,” Mr Ryan said.
“I’m very pleased. Thank you.”
Victoria Police officer who uncovered paedophile priest struggling to make ends meet, supporters say
ABC News Australia
A former Victorian police officer who was drummed out of the force for trying to bring a notorious paedophile priest to justice is living a meagre existence and struggling to make ends meet, supporters calling for him to be compensated say.
Denis Ryan, 86, lives in a rented flat in Mildura and, despite clocking up about 20 years of service with Victoria Police, is not on a police pension.
“You certainly can’t live lavishly or anything like that,” he said.
To the fury of his friends in the north-west Victorian town, he gets by on an aged pension instead.
“It’s a f***ing disgrace,” said Vernon Knight, who has known him for about 30 years.
“He was crucified for doing his job and he was penalised for attempting to blow the whistle on the abuse that was occurring.”
Mr Ryan was driven out of the police force after trying to charge Monsignor John Day, a paedophile priest who sexually abused children in Mildura in the early 1970s.
When he brought the case to the attention of his superiors, he was told to stop investigating.
Victoria Police officially apologised to Mr Ryan in 2016.
Chief Commissioner Ashton visits Ryan
In early March, Mr Knight, along with 30 other senior members of the community, wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews and urged him to give the former police officer what they believed he was owed in benefits.
They thought the Premier had listened to their pleas when, out of the blue, Mr Ryan received a call from Victoria Police’s Chief Commissioner, Graham Ashton.
But when the pair met on Monday afternoon in Mildura, the issue was left unsettled.
Mr Ashton instead presented Mr Ryan with a picture of the two together.
When he brought up the subject of a pension with the Chief Commissioner, Mr Ryan said Graham Ashton “avoided the question”.
‘The man has suffered enough’
The situation has left friends like Stefano de Pieri bitterly disappointed.
“We were all anticipating a very happy ending,” he said.
“You’d think his fellow policemen would rally and come to his aid.”
He has called for Victoria Police to act.
“To make an allocation, a significant allocation, that would give him some dignity so that he can see out the rest of his days with peace and tranquillity. The man has suffered a lot and has suffered enough.”
Mr Knight said the situation is about more than just money.
“This is about legitimising him, giving him back some dignity,” he said.
“What would you think if you got a call from the Chief Commissioner saying, ‘I’m coming to Mildura to meet with you’?”
A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said any compensation or monetary arrangement was a “confidential matter” between the force and Mr Ryan.
On Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews left the door open for Mr Ryan to receive some form of compensation.
“Victoria Police has already provided some support but I do know that he’s fallen on hard times and my office will be speaking with him this afternoon,” Mr Andrews said.
“If there is more we can do for someone who is an absolute Victorian hero, we will do that.”
On the ground floor of the Victoria Police Centre is the Honour Board For Courage that lists the names of nearly 500 police who risked their lives in the line of duty.
But in policing there are two types of courage. There is the instinctive act of physical bravery and the moral type that requires the strength of character to uphold the law when pressured to compromise.
Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton apologises to the former policeman 44 years after he was forced to resign for refusing to protect a paedophile priest.
When former policeman Denis Ryan walked in to meet present Chief Commissioner, Graham Ashton, he knew his name would never appear on the honour board, although he is a hero who was prepared to sacrifice his career on a point of principle.
He refused to buckle when his bosses wanted him to ignore a paedophile priest and then was hounded from the job in a conspiracy that many believe went all the way to the chief commissioner’s office.
Now, 44 years after he was forced to resign because he cared more for children than his professional future, he has been vindicated in the very office where his career was destroyed.
It was only a few words and a handshake but when Ashton formally apologised on behalf of the police force it was the final vindication for a man who refused to be crushed by two powerful institutions.
“Denis wouldn’t look the other way. He acted with propriety and courage and it is a testament to his character. We can’t right the wrongs of history but we can acknowledge and learn from them,” Ashton said last week.
So why was an honest cop hounded from office for trying to do his job? First we must look back to a time where the police force was poisoned by secular interests and some cops put church before duty.
Senior Detective Ryan was a staunch Catholic who transferred to Mildura not so much for the career opportunity but for family reasons after a doctor advised his son’s asthma would improve in a drier climate.
In 1971, St Joseph’s College vice-principal John Howden contacted Ryan to tell him that Monsignor John Day had molested a young female student, adding that Ryan shouldn’t tell his immediate boss, Detective Sergeant Jim Barritt.
Barritt was Catholic, a mate of Day’s, a control freak and a member of a loose cartel of cops known as the “Catholic Mafia” who protected priests accused of crimes. These police were traitors who covered for serial paedophiles, allowing them to continue to destroy the lives of countless children.
Ryan began his investigation and easily found a dozen boys and girls who had been molested. This was not a hard case, as Day was so arrogant he hardly bothered to cover his tracks, believing he was a protected species. Soon Ryan had formal statements from the victims and it was clear the Monsignor was a monster.
Ryan hoped that when he presented his evidence to Barritt’s superiors they would have no choice but to support Day’s prosecution. He was wrong, naively believing duty, honour and evidence would defeat the white anting by the Catholic Mafia. Yet it was Ryan rather than Barritt and Day who was attacked, with the detective told he had breached the chain of command, then ordered to drop the case.
It would have been easy for Ryan to just follow orders but he thought of the victims and knew that if Day was not stopped the offending would continue. “It was all swept under the carpet. I took 12 statements and I could have taken 100,” he recalled.
When Ryan refused to stop senior police begrudgingly conducted an investigation that had Barritt’s fingerprints all over it and although he was Day’s close mate he sat in on the priest’s interview in what was a clear conflict of interest.
The final report was so inept it had to be fixed. It concluded that there was “insufficient evidence to prosecute Day, yet found he’d “misconducted himself”.
Day was at first defended then finally moved by Bishop Ronald Mulkearns but only when the allegations threatened to become public. Mulkearns died earlier this year in disgrace after he was found to have protected paedophile priests including the notorious Father Gerald Ridsdale.
Even though the doctored police report effectively vindicated Ryan his career was doomed from the moment he refused to join the conspiracy. Rather than confront the truth senior police, right to the office of then chief commissioner Reg Jackson, declared this was a personality clash between two headstrong detectives.
And so in 1972 Barritt was transferred to Echuca, which was no big deal, while Ryan was ordered back to Melbourne – a move senior police knew he could not make because of his son’s health. He was effectively forced to resign, which meant they rid themselves of the honest cop and protected the cover-up artist.
Over the years there were attempts to have Ryan’s case reviewed but each time senior police supported the bogus “clash between colleagues” line.
Then Ryan found an ally he had not previously met, former chief commissioner Mick Miller, who had been a senior officer at the time of the case. Miller at the time was assured by senior colleagues he considered his friends that it was a simple conflict that had been managed correctly. “You can only be betrayed by the people you trust,” he now says.
Long after he retired Miller read Ryan’s account in the book Unholy Trinity and realised he had been kept in the dark while the Mildura detective’s career was destroyed. Last year he told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse there had been “misconduct by senior Victoria Police officers, including dereliction of duty, conspiracy to pervert the course of justice and inciting other members of the police force to join the conspiracy against Denis Ryan in order to conceal the crimes committed by Day”.
Ryan told the hearing “I knew that if I resigned from the force I would lose my police and emergency services pension, which was significant, and all my benefits. I would also lose a job that had previously been my life. However, I knew that if I resigned and stayed in Mildura, my voice would still be heard.
“In the early days, I had nightmares of Monsignor Day raping kids and the way the police force had condoned these offences.”
Ashton had also read Unholy Trinity but it was at Miller’s urging he decided to call for the files and see for himself. With no skin in the game he could see the obvious, that a decent policeman had been railroaded for doing his duty.
It would have been easy for Ashton to consign the story to history but to his credit he decided to take action. To do anything less would have been hypocritical as he has been publicly scathing of institutions that supported a cover-up culture, once telling a state parliamentary inquiry: “The processes of the Catholic Church are designed to put the reputation of the church first and the victims second.”
“If you call out other organisations then you have to call out your own. Society’s greatest duty is to care for our children,” he told Fairfax Media.
At a private morning tea attended by senior police, Mick Miller, and a group of men who lobbied for Ryan over the years, Ashton turned to the retired detective and said: “Denis, you were right and your commitment has been outstanding”.
Police Association Assistant Secretary Bruce McKenzie also apologised, acknowledging they should have done more to defend Ryan.
But last week’s meeting with Ryan was more than a cup of tea and an apology: the very admission means the force will pay the former detective some form of compensation for the past wrong.
Ryan, now 84, read from a prepared statement thanking Ashton for being “forthright and frank”, adding: “In my day as a detective, I became aware and indeed had my career roughly ended by some of the most senior members of the force who had a distorted sense of loyalty to other institutions.
“That failure led to what I have described as an epidemic of clerical child sex abuse in Victoria. That the Catholic Church covered up and engaged in criminal conspiracies brings great shame on that institution. But the failures of policing in pursuit of that distorted sense of loyalty led one victim to become two, to become 10 and awfully and finally for the number of victims to become too large to count.
“My own circumstances have been distinctly grim since I left the force but as dark as some of those days have been, they have no parallel with those forced to endure the pain and suffering of sexual abuse. What makes it worse and haunts my dreams to this day, is that if we as a police force did what were we were supposed to do, what we were charged to do, what we took an oath to do, so much of that pain and suffering would not exist today.”
Out of this dark episode there is a shard of light. Ryan has agreed to video his story so serving police looking at ethics and integrity will see that courage can come from sticking to your guns as much as using one in times of physical danger.