“All of the people that knew me as a child… they all tell me that I was this joyful, energetic, happy-go-lucky child.
“[But] I don’t remember my child self. I don’t know who she was when she was happy before she was traumatised.”
From age 11, Tiffany Skeggs was groomed and raped by a man 47 years her senior in Tasmania, Australia. She said he was a nurse and a well-liked community volunteer – a paternal figure who filled a hole left by her father’s death years earlier.
“I saw him as a hero. He made it seem like I was the only person on Earth,” she told an inquiry.
Ms Skeggs wasn’t the only child James Geoffrey Griffin had groomed that way. Over four decades, he brazenly exploited and abused many girls.
One was the child of a colleague and friend. Another was a relative he bragged online about sedating and raping. Several were his patients. Another girl had a disability and was non-verbal – her mother made allegations on her behalf.
Exactly how many people Griffin abused is unknown. Authorities say they know some haven’t come forward.
How was this allowed to happen?
The first allegations against Griffin date back to the late 1980s, when he was in his 30s. It would take 30 years for him to be arrested.
In that time, he gained access to children primarily through his role as a nurse on the paediatric ward at Launceston General Hospital and as a massage therapist for junior sporting teams.
For years, parents, colleagues and even strangers tried to alert authorities to the risk Griffin posed. But only in 2019 when Ms Skeggs disclosed her abuse did police investigate properly.
By October that year, Griffin, then 69, had been charged with abusing four children. He died by suicide weeks later.
A Tasmanian inquiry is now investigating how many complaints and red flags were overlooked. During public hearings, which concluded this month, it heard Griffin received his first written warning about problematic behaviour in 2004.
The behaviour only escalated, and complaints began piling up. Among them were reports he had been cuddling a pre-teenage girl at the hospital, giving patients his phone number, and giving an 11-year-old a “wet kiss” on the forehead.
He was counselled and warned but ultimately maintained his access to vulnerable children.
Most extraordinarily, the hospital overlooked a disclosure by one of their staff members that Griffin had repeatedly abused her from age seven.
In 2011, social worker Kylee Pearn told her boss and HR representatives what had happened to her. It followed a sleepless night on the paediatric ward with one of her children – she had been too scared to leave the child alone.
“I just thought how incredibly unfair it was that I could protect my child, but no one else in this ward knew that information,” she told Tasmania’s Commission of Inquiry into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
Other staff spoke up too. One senior nurse told the inquiry she had taken it upon herself to allocate young female patients to other nurses wherever possible after her concerns about Griffin fell on deaf ears.
Another colleague, Will Gordon, formally reported Griffin, but his complaint was deemed “unsubstantiated” without even speaking to the girls involved.
Griffin’s behaviour was constantly excused, Mr Gordon said. “It would be: ‘Jim is Jim. That’s just who he is.'” Only when police reported finding Griffin in possession of child abuse images that appeared to be taken inside the hospital was he suspended from work.
The public hospital had a culture of fear and cover-up, senior staff told the inquiry.
Some revealed they had no training in identifying grooming behaviour and weren’t aware of mandatory reporting obligations or how to escalate their complaints.
The head of Tasmania’s health department – which oversees the hospital – recently made an emotional apology, saying she was “personally horrified” by the evidence and the “lack of empathy and humanity” shown to survivors.
“While my words alone will not heal the hurt of all those that have suffered – nor will words alone comfort those [who] will never know if they or their children were victims – I will do my very best to lead [the department] to right the wrongs of the past,” Kathrine Morgan-Wicks said.