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Woodlands boy denied photos

Request: Hunter man Stephen Stackman at his home. A judge in 2015 found Mr Stackman and his former wife not guilty of sexually abusing three boys at Woodlands boys’ home, West Wallsend, in the 1970s. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.A HUNTER man found not guilty of sexually assaulting three young boys during holiday breaks from a West Wallsend boys’ home in the 1970s has refused a man’s requests for childhood photos from the boys’ home era.
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“He’s not getting them. Not after what he’s put me through,” said Stephen Stackman, who was found not guilty in 2015 of 11 offences against the boys from the United Protestant Association’s Woodlands boys’ home, including buggery. His former wife Margaret Hartnell was also found not guilty of the offences.

A Newcastle District Court judge on August 14 lifted non-publication orders that prevented their names from being published, after an application by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions following nearly two years of requests by one of the former Woodlands boys who alleged he was sexually abused.

Mr Stackman confirmed he had childhood photos of the man who pushed for the suppression orders to be lifted. Mr Stackman said his solicitor relayed the man’s requests for the photos, which he rejected.

The former Woodlands boy’s wife said he had one photo from his childhood, taken at Woodlands.

“He’s about eight years old and he’s up against a wall, obviously upset. We have nothing else. We don’t have a photo of him smiling as a child,” she said. The former Woodlands boy and his wife cannot be identified.

The trial heard photos were taken in 1978 when Mr Stackman and his former wife offered to take Woodlands boys for the Christmas break, and showed Stackman family gatherings at Gloucester and West Wallsend.

NSW District Court Acting Judge Peter Garling found Mr Stackman and MsHartnell not guilty in a judgment where he noted there was “no doubt these were vulnerable children with no family support and were easy targets”.

Legacy: Boys from Woodlands boys’ home in the 1970s.

“I have to say when I consider all these matters there is a strong suspicion that the accused committed each of these offences,” Judge Garling said, before noting that “strong suspicion”was not “beyond reasonable doubt”.

He was “impressed with the boys’ evidence” and there was “no substantial challenge to what they said in those statements and their evidence as to the sexual acts”, which were “of an unusual type” because they allegedly involved MrStackman and his former wife.

“The behaviour of which the boys gave evidence was of an unusual sexual behaviour, that is, both husband and wife acting together to abuse the boys. They were acting so as each of the accused were obtaining sexual pleasure. That is not a simple version as we often hear in this court. This is far more complex and unusual. Yet the boys gave evidence of a similar nature. There was no evidence that they had got together to tell a similar story. Each, as I understand the evidence, independently gave their versions with most unusual facts, and they are not easy versions to give,” Judge Garling said.

He also noted some evidence by Ms Hartnell was “most unimpressive and troubled me”, and questioned why she visitedone of the former Woodlands boys after 20 years “to see if he was also going to complain”, following child sex complaints by two other boys.

“It could be argued that she did that because she knew he had been sexually assaulted,” Judge Garling said.

He found Mr Stackman and his former wife not guilty after noting that “the most important matter to consider is delay in complaint and any forensic disadvantage to the accused”.

“The delay is very extensive.. of about 24 or 26 years,” Judge Garling said.

“During that time the accused had no opportunity to collect evidence which may have assisted in their defence. If the complainants had drawn it to their attention, say, within five years, it would have allowed them to look for evidence which may have provided a complete defence, or at least evidence which would have thrown doubt on the boys’ evidence,” he said.

At his home on Wednesday Mr Stackman said he and his former wife took Woodlands boys camping and on outings to give them a break from the home over the summer holidays.

“We accepted them as family,” he said.

The former Woodlands boy and his wife who pressed for the lifting of the non-publication order said they were devastated at the trial’s outcome, but encouraged all victims of child sexual abuse to report allegations to police.

“With everything we’ve been through I would still encourage people to come forward. We would like to thank Lake Macquarie detectives at Belmont, and particularly Detective Sandy who took our statements because they supported us the whole way through,” the former Woodlands boy and his wife said.

“We wanted the non-publication order lifted because we have an open system of justice in Australia. The judge several weeks ago accepted that the order should be lifted.”

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