UPDATE: After the jump, Australian Senator Nick Xenophon’s statement about this development — and attorney Gráinne O’Donovan helps us understand Australian law on this matter.
Stunning news out of Australia — the public prosecutor in New South Wales has suddenly dropped serious felony charges against Jan Eastgate and apparently has no plans to pursue further the allegation that she had coached an 11-year-old girl to lie about being sexually abused.
“I have always maintained my innocence,” Eastgate told Australia’s Daily Telegraph after the news broke Tuesday morning, Sydney time.
After the jump, we have a report from Today Tonight‘s Bryan Seymour. We’re also trying to reach Steve Cannane, who originally broke the Eastgate story for ABC’s Lateline.
Eastgate was due to face a committal hearing in Sydney next month, followed by a trial in June.
The president of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights [a Scientology front group that agitates against psychiatry], Eastgate (real name Janice Wendy Eastgate Meyer), was last May charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice.
The charges relate to an incident involving a then 11-year-old girl named Carmen Rainer. She told her mother that she had been sexually abused by her stepfather. As the family were Scientologists they sought help at the Org in Sydney.
There they allege Eastgate told the little girl not to tell police what had happened or she and her brother would be taken away by social services. They further allege that Eastgate told Carmen’s mother Phoebe to also deny the abuse to the police and to the Department of Community Services. The alleged reason for this was to avoid bad publicity for the Church of Scientology.
Carmen’s stepfather Robert Kerr in 1999 turned himself in and admitted he indecently assaulted Carmen between the ages of 7 and 11.
Seymour sent along several links to past stories done by both him and Cannane about the story.
Seymour goes on to say…
Today, 11 months after Eastgate was arrested and charged, the Public Prosecutor in New South Wales dropped the charges.
Incredibly, I’ve learned the reason for this is that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, DPP, supposedly did not realise that the charges were not in existence at the time the alleged offence occurred in 1985.
I spoke today with Carmen Rainer who said she was given the impression that the authorities have no plans to find the ‘right’ charge for the alleged offences and that they plan to simply drop the whole matter and ‘forget about it.’
I am waiting for Public Prosecutor Lindy Coyle to call me or e-mail with her reasons.
I’ve also sent Coyle a list of questions about the case. If I hear something, I’ll update this post.
The Daily Telegraph in Sydney included a statement from Eastgate in its story tonight…
Now based in Los Angeles where she counts Tom Cruise and John Travolta among her friends, Ms Eastgate released a statement to The Daily Telegraph.
“I have always maintained my innocence,” Ms Eastgate said.
She has worked overseas since 1993.
“This outcome means I can concentrate on my work to assist people in need of help both in Australia and overseas through the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a group that investigates psychiatric-pharmaceutical conflicts of interest and human rights abuse,” Ms Eastgate said.
UPDATE: Just heard from ABC’s Steve Cannane, who says he is busy working up a story about this for tonight’s broadcast. He sent along this statement from Anna Cooper, media liaison of the New South Wales Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions…
“This matter was withdrawn because there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on any charge. The ODPP will not make any further comment.”
Also, a final thought from Seymour:
The fact remains that the allegations have not been tested in court. This is not an outcome — it is not a court decision — it is a complete withdrawal from the case by the DPP.
As it stands we now have Jan Eastgate’s word against the word of Carmen Rainer, her mother Phoebe, and former Scientologist Carmel Underwood, who claimed to have witnessed Eastgate coaching Carmen to lie to the police.
After following this story for eighteen months, along with Lateline reporter Steve Canane at the ABC, (who broke this story), I am curious to know why this has happened.
UPDATE: We have Steve Cannane’s script for the show he did about this development. It includes a statement by independent federal senator Nick Xenophon…
Carmen Rainer was raised in a Scientology family.
Between eight and eleven she was abused by her stepfather Robert Alexander Kerr.
In allegations first aired on Lateline Carmen Rainer said the prominent Scientologist Jan Eastgate told her to lie to police and community services workers about the sexual abuse
Carmen Rainer, former Scientologist, May 2010: “Just say no. She kept repeating that, ‘Just remember you can’t tell them. Don’t say yes because otherwise you will be taken away from your parents and you will never see your family again’ because DOCS will take me and my brother away from my mum and that I needed to just say no.”
Carmen Rainer’s allegations were backed by her mother.
Phoebe Rainer, former Scientologist: “She came with us to the interview she basically told me what to say and Carmen what to say and she also told Carmen to lie to the police and I lied to the police as well because of that.”
Jan Eastgate is the international head of the Citizen’s Commission on Human Rights an organisation founded by the Church of Scientology to campaign against psychiatry.
Jan Eastgate has refused to talk to Lateline. She has consistently denied Carmen Rainer’s allegations describing them as ‘egregiously false’.
In May last year she was arrested and charged with perverting the court of justice.
Two months ago she was charged with another related offence. She was due to face court again next month.
But today the office of NSW Director of Public Prosecutions announced they were withdrawing charges against Jan Eastgate saying there was no reasonable prospect of a conviction.
Carmen Rainer: “I just was shocked. I didn’t know what to think I didn’t know what to say. I said nothing.”
In 2010 Senator Nick Xenophon went to the police station with Carmen Rainer to make a statement about this matter. [Cut to: Xenophon today.]
Senator Nick Xenophon: “Look, this is just an extraordinary turn of events. These matters are before the courts for a number of months, a second set of charges is laid just a few weeks ago, and then suddenly it’s all abandoned. Carmen Rainer deserves an explanation from the DPP, because she has been understandably left devastated by what has occurred.”
The Office of the DPP would not give specific reasons as to why the charges were withdrawn. Carmen Rainer says she was told by a DPP lawyer there was not a law against perverting the course of justice in 1985.
Carmen Rainer: “The reason that she gave me was the charges they had given her were the wrong charges and that was because they charged her with the new law instead of the old law it happened in 1985 the new law came in in 1990.”
Carmen Rainer also says the DPP’s office told her them it didn’t help her case that the NSW Police could not find the police who took her original statement .
In a statement released today Jan Eastgate said, “I have always maintained my innocence, having had an exemplary career for more than 30 years dedicated to serving the community and families as well as championing human rights. This outcome means I can concentrate on my work to assist people in need of help both in Australia and overseas through the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a group that investigates psychiatric-pharmaceutical conflicts of interest and human rights abuse.”
When I read Jan Eastgate’s statement to Carmen Rainer she broke down…
Carmen Rainer: “I’m worried that now people are going to think that it’s OK to tell children to lie to the police, that people can get away with sexual abuse, sexually abusing children.”
Jan Eastgate says she will continue her work with the CCHR.
My take: It’s hard to believe that coaching an 11-year-old girl to lie to police about being sexually molested was not a felony under Australian law in 1985. So the question I’d like answered is why the DPP was unable to refile these charges after they discovered they had filed them incorrectly. It will be interesting to see if Xenophon or Cannane or Seymour — or Rainer herself — can get an answer to that question.
UPDATE: Perth attorney Gráinne O’Donovan answers our question about the law. She says she was interviewed by Cannane, but time constraints kept her out of the piece. Here’s what she just sent me…
In 1985 it was a criminal offence in New South Wales to conspire to pervert the course of justice. That is the charge that should have been laid. The decision to lay charges under the 1990 statute was a fundamental mistake one might expect from a law student, but not from a practising lawyer.
Some months ago, Carmen was given a list of names of witnesses that the police could not locate. I spent less than half an hour with the aid of Google and whitepages online and had one of those witnesses at the other end of the phone. I had another within hours. I provided that information to the prosecution at the time. Naturally, that dented my confidence in the adequacy of the investigation.
UPDATE: O’Donovan now points me to this new article that just showed up at Australia’s The Telegraph, which reports that police felt pressured by Xenophon to investigate a crime they were apparently not very interested in probing.
New South Wales police and prosecutors really seem a bit confused here. As journalists Cannane and Seymour showed, there were multiple witnesses who all were willing to testify that a senior executive in the Church of Scientology, in order to spare the church bad publicity, allegedly coached a little girl to lie to police about the years of sexual abuse she’d endured at the hands of her Scientologist stepfather — a man who admitted to that crime.
If the Pope himself had brought Carmen Rainer by the hand down to the police station in Sydney, and asked police there to investigate the obstruction of justice charge that she was alleging, why — will someone please explain to me — would police complain in any form that they were being asked to investigate the crime?
And why, as O’Donovan has explained, would police then have so little interest that they wouldn’t do the most simple searching for witnesses, and why would prosecutors commit a rookie error on charges, and then simply give up rather than refile those charges?
The incompetence here is stunning — whether or not you believe that Jan Eastgate was guilty of a crime, Carmen Rainer surely deserved better from the police and prosecutors of New South Wales.
Tony Ortega has been the editor in chief of the Village Voice since March, 2007. He started writing about Scientology in 1995. You can catch his alerts at Twitter (@VoiceTonyO), at his Facebook author page, on Pinterest, and even this new Google Plus doohickey.
New readers might want to check out our primer, “What is Scientology?” Another good overview is our series from last summer, “Top 25 People Crippling Scientology.” At the top of every story, you’ll see the “Scientology” category which, if you click on it, will bring up all of our most recent stories.
As for hot subjects we’ve covered here, you may have heard about Debbie Cook, the former church official who rebelled and is now being sued by Scientology. You might have also heard about the Super Power Building, Scientology’s “Mecca,” whose secrets were revealed here. We also reported how Scientology spied on its own most precious object, Tom Cruise. (We wrote Tom an open letter that he has yet to respond to.) Have you seen a Scientology ad on TV lately? We debunked some of the claims in that 2-minute commercial you might have seen while watching Glee or American Idol.
Other stories have looked at Scientology’s policy of “disconnection” that is tearing families apart. You may also have heard something about the Sea Org experiences of the Paris sisters, Valeska and Melissa, and their friend Ramana Dienes-Browning. We’ve also featured Paulette Cooper, who wrote about Scientology back in the day, and Janet Reitman, Hugh Urban, and the team at the Tampa Bay Times, who write about it today. And there’s plenty more coming.