‘Government lied to us before our grandkids were murdered’
Families SA lied to the grandparents of the Hillier triple murder victims and won their trust by falsely claiming they had intervened in the welfare of their eldest grandchild, a court has heard.
On Thursday, Steven Egberts told the Supreme Court he would "never have trusted" the agency to look after that boy's siblings, Amber Rose Rigney and Korey Lee Mitchell, had he known the truth.
Child protection workers, he said, repeatedly told him they had acted upon a mandatory notification about Amber and Korey's older brother when they had, in fact, declined to intervene.
Mr Egberts' comments, and the existence of the older child, can finally be revealed after the court lifted the sole remaining, longstanding suppression order on the infamous crime.
He told the court that order had frustrated efforts by his wife, Janet Wells, and himself to hold Families SA accountable for its inaction preceding the murders.
"All we've wanted to do is let people know what the truth is … I can't believe that, for three years, I've had to fight to tell people what the truth is," he said.
"Families SA continually lied to us about their intervention with (the eldest child) … had I known that, I would never have trusted them with Amber and Korey.
"I'm responsible for the mistakes I make, I don't understand why others seemingly aren't … I just want to hold Families SA accountable for what they did."
Amber and Korey were the youngest children of their mother, Adeline Yvette Wilson Rigney.
Their older brother, now 11, was with Mr Egberts and Ms Wells when the family was murdered by Steven Graham Peet in May 2016.
Both his identity and his existence were suppressed, by two separate court orders, to spare him "undue hardship" during Peet's prosecution.
During the murder case, the court heard the children and their mother had been in contact with Families SA workers in the months before their deaths.
Two workers visited the house on the morning of the murders, but left after receiving no answer to their knock on the door - Peet was inside at the time.
In June last year, Ombudsman Wayne Lines launched an inquiry into Families SA's dealings with Ms Wilson-Rigney and all three of the children.
While it is complete, the two suppression orders - one in the Magistrates Court, the other in the Supreme Court - would have prevented the full report being made public.
Representing themselves, and with the assistance of The Advertiser, Mr Egberts and Ms Wells challenged the orders.
They argued the eldest child was suffering harm from being "cut out of" the story of his family, and that it was in the public interest for the full report to be published.
They were opposed by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the children's maternal grandmother, Donna, who argued the orders should remain in place.
Last year, the Magistrates Court agreed to revoke its order, but warned publication could not take place unless and until the Supreme Court did the same.
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Blue agreed the matter was of public interest - but ordered the eldest child speak with a psychologist before any decision was made.
On Thursday, Justice Blue told Mr Egberts he was prepared to vary the order to allow publication of the eldest child's existence and age, but not his identity.
Mr Egberts told the court he was satisfied with that approach.
"This is not, and has never been, about making a show pony out of the child … it's been embarrassing, having to defend our integrity when it comes to his welfare," he said.
"People think these suppression orders are minimising his harm - there is no minimising his harm, he's lost his entire family.
"We've been to hell and back about this and we can't let it go … we just want him, Amber and Korey represented in the way they should be."
He said the eldest child came to live with him and Ms Wells after an incident that sparked a mandatory notification.
"In our initial dealings with Families SA, we were never made aware that they had declined to intervene in (the eldest child's) case," he said.
"They were always portraying to us that they had done us a favour by protecting him … this had a huge impact with how we dealt with them concerning Amber and Korey.
"We firmly believed that, because they had 'helped' us with him, they'd help us with them … if we understood they had declined to intervene, we would never have trusted them."
Mr Egberts said the Ombudsman's report went "well beyond" the welfare of his grandchildren and showed systemic problems within child protection.
"We just want the truth, and it's been very hard coming here (to court) time and time again to fight for that truth," he said.
"The Ombudsman's report, from what we've seen, is the closest we've got to that … what happened to Amber and Korey should never have happened."