Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox retires from police after sparking royal commission into child sex abuse

Peter Fox and his wife Penny
Peter Fox and his wife Penny

DETECTIVE Chief Inspector Peter Fox will leave the NSW Police Force at midnight on Thursday – exactly 36 years, seven months and three days after walking in.

He feels vindicated by evidence at last month’s inquiry into police involvement with a Catholic Church child sexual abuse reporting group, and relieved to leave without disciplinary action against him over the November 2012 television interview that led to a royal commission, but ended his career.

And he’s not going quietly.

‘‘When the hell are they going to do something about charging someone?’’ he said about the key recommendation of the NSW Special Commission of Inquiry report in May this year that slammed him, but found there was ‘‘sufficient evidence warranting the prosecution of a senior Catholic Church official in connection with the concealment of child sexual abuse’’ by the late Hunter priest Jim Fletcher.

‘‘Why is it now more than five months since the findings, but nothing in relation to a charge? The police force and the DPP [Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions] are dragging their heels on this matter.’’

He criticised the report for lacking balance, and the police force’s treatment of him at the inquiry in Newcastle and Sydney last year.

‘‘They wanted me to break down in the witness box. I had private hearings with the commission and public ones. I spent 13 days in the witness box. I was punch drunk, but I wasn’t going to let them win.’’

Peter Fox is retiring from the police force. Picture: Marina Neil

Peter Fox is retiring from the police force. Picture: Marina Neil

He cried, once, in December last year following a private hearing several months after public hearings were formally concluded. The private hearing went for more than six hours until 7pm, and included gruelling questioning by police.

‘‘I had a fairly hard upbringing in a Housing Commission estate. I haven’t cried since I was a child, but I pulled over on the side of the road near the ambulance station when you cross the Hawkesbury River on the way home after that and I cried.

‘‘Penny [his wife] cried. She kept saying ‘They’ve done it. They’ve got what they were after’.

‘‘It frightens me for anyone who might speak out for a conscientious reason, that this is what happened to me.’’

Mr Fox was in Bali when Commissioner Margaret Cunneen’s report was released in May. He read large sections, but has so far not read the full report with its damning assessment of him as ‘‘deliberately untruthful’’, and its description of him as an officer who had developed an ‘‘obsession about the Catholic Church and alleged conspiracies involving senior police’’.

‘‘I’m a pretty tough guy but I’ve never been so low in my life as when that report came out,’’ Mr Fox said this week. ‘‘I’ve never tried to put myself out as an angel. I made some errors. But what stood out was the lack of balance.

‘‘I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t a little bit apprehensive what the public reaction would be.’’

The overwhelming majority of people were supportive. He continues to have strong support from victims’ groups and outspoken critics of the Catholic Church’s handling of child sex abuse cases – like Victorian couple Chrissie and Anthony Foster and Hunter man Lou Pirona, whose son John’s suicide in 2012  sparked the Newcastle Herald’s Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.

‘‘I think most people read between the lines and made up their own minds up about what the inquiry was really about,’’ Mr Fox said.

He stands by his open letter to the then NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell that appeared in the Herald on November 8, in which he alleged the Catholic Church covered up the crimes of paedophile priests, silenced victims, hindered police investigations, destroyed evidence and moved priests to protect its ‘‘good name’’.

He feels vindicated about some of his allegations against police after the NSW Police Integrity Commission was told last month that police may have ‘‘condoned’’ or even ‘‘encouraged’’ the cover-up of child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church.

‘‘I got put through hell because of a couple of lines I said about the police force, but had those couple of lines not been said, I don’t think we would have had a royal commission,’’ he said.

His religious beliefs have been irrevocably changed.

‘‘I’m now agnostic. The more I looked into churches – the power and corruption – the more I could feel myself moving away,’’ he said. 

‘‘But I still believe there’s something greater than us. We were put here for a reason.

‘‘Would I do it all again – the whole career including the last few years? Absolutely. In the blink of an eye.’’