Families SA did not want to “jeopardise” paedophile carer Shannon McCoole’s employment because he was regarded as a “wonderful” employee, a royal commission has heard.
McCoole was temporarily suspended in 2013 while the child protection agency investigated a care concern after a co-worker reported hearing and interrupting McCoole sexually abusing a six-year-old girl in state care.
He was later cleared to return to work and police also declined to investigate the case due to a lack of evidence.
McCoole was last year sentenced to 35 years in jail for sexually abusing vulnerable children in his care and for running an abuse site on the dark net with 45,000 members worldwide.
A former senior human resources consultant with the department that oversees Families SA told the commission that during a management meeting about the care concern back in 2013, McCoole was labelled a “wonderful” employee.
“People were saying he was such a wonderful employee they didn’t want anything to jeopardise his employment,” she said.
“I remember [the manager] telling me how valued he was as an employee and how much in high demand he was.
“That he was very good with the children and everybody, all the other employees seemed to like him so they were quite keen to retain his services.”
She said that was a view shared by other senior staff, including people from contract agency Nanny SA, where McCoole was also employed.
McCoole praised by managers, mistrusted by some co-workers
The royal commission has previously heard evidence from numerous youth workers who said they did not like McCoole and found him “arrogant”, “weird” and very intimidating to the children.
But they said he behaved differently around management and was highly regarded by his superiors.
The HR consultant said she told the Families SA manager that the department was under no obligation to renew McCoole’s contract because he was a casual employee.
“In a private conversation I had with [the manager] I said it’s possible that something inappropriate has occurred, however there is no evidence and the child hasn’t disclosed, so therefore on balance of that we can’t say definitively that Shannon was inappropriate,” she said.
“I did say he’s not contracted to Families SA as a casual so you don’t have to give him any more shifts.”
When asked by counsel assisting the royal commission, Emily Telfer, whether she would have re-employed McCoole if it was up to her, she responded “no”.
“The reason for that, and it’s only my personal belief … did I personally think something had gone wrong, something inappropriate had happened? Absolutely. If I had that power I would have not employed him at all on the basis that the young person had to be protected.”
The commission heard that during his suspension McCoole had pleaded to retain his job.
The witness said that while McCoole was suspended he would regularly phone her to ask what was going on with the investigation.
She said initially he was calm but during later phone calls he escalated into “extreme anger”.
The witness said he pleaded his case that he had not done anything wrong, and his livelihood and career were at stake.
She said he also started crying and “sobbing” on the phone.
“My personal opinion, I found him when I spoke to him to be extremely credible,” she said.
“He was the most credible liar I have ever listened to.”
She said McCoole’s union representative had also contacted her.
The commission has previously heard after being cleared to return to work McCoole was promoted for his own “protection”.
Department ‘didn’t take Families SA very seriously’
The witness said the government department that oversaw Families SA was under-staffed and many employees had large workloads.
She said when the former Department of Families and Communities (DFC) became the Department of Education and Child Development (DECD), staff were not as supported.
“The department didn’t take Families SA very seriously, the level of response and service they were used to receiving from DFC was no longer provided we didn’t have the staff,” she said.
She said she and her colleagues became bogged down in heavy workloads and at the time she was dealing with McCoole’s care concern she had 43 open cases of varying complexities including “high profile” arrests of department employees that had received media coverage.
McCoole is now in protective custody and under 24-hour surveillance in Adelaide’s Yatala Labour Prison.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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