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The Royal Commission into child sexual abuse, -

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LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: The scouting movement's motto is "Be prepared". But in the shameful case of one paedophile scoutmaster, the organisation preferred inaction over vigilance.

Steven Larkins was allowed to shift from troop to troop, even as other Scout leaders and parents raised the alarm about his predatory behaviour.

As we know, the Scouts aren't the only organisation to have failed in their duty to protect children. The Larkins case is the subject of the first public hearings of the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child abuse.

Adam Harvey reports.

ADAM HARVEY, REPORTER: Steven Larkins' time as a child abuser ended by chance, in a Newcastle car park, a USB stick slipping out of his pocket onto the floor of a work car.

It was found by a colleague. When she opened it to find its owner, she found Larkins' cache of child pornography. Its discovery sparked a police investigation that unearthed two sex assaults on young Boy Scouts in the 1990s.

But the career that Larkins built around access to vulnerable children could've ended 13 years earlier, when a vigilant scout leader desperately tried to make others see what was blindingly obvious.

ARMAND HOITINK: Probably the most evil person I have ever come across. He would enter a room or you'd be at a camp with him or something like that: there was something palpably wrong about this guy. There was a darkness about him.

ADAM HARVEY: Armand Hoitink is on a journey to Sydney to give evidence, at the first public hearings of the child abuse Royal Commission, centred around Steven Larkins.

GAIL FURNESS, SEN. COUNSEL ASSISTING THE ROYAL COMMISSION: The minors he assaulted were scouts and the assaults occurred in 1992 and 1997, while Steven Larkins was a Scout leader.

ADAM HARVEY: It's the final stop in a saga that began in 1994, when the Armand Hoitink's kids joined the Scouts in the Newcastle suburb of Stockton. Something was wrong from the very first night

ARMAND HOITINK: Yeah, I ran into the then group leader. And he said to me, "Listen", he said, "would you mind giving us a hand tonight?" I said "Why?" He said "Oh, got this guy here, Steven Larkins, and we're a bit suspicious about him."

ADAM HARVEY: In the small community of Stockton, Stephen Larkins was notorious.

ARMAND HOITINK: A lot of the kids called him a "Rock Spider", which I found out a bit later what that actually meant. It really meant a guy who was a paedophile.

ADAM HARVEY: Unknown to Armand Hoitink, Larkins had already abused at least one scout, but his inappropriate approach to children was obvious.

ARMAND HOITINK: The group leader had a chat to me one evening and said he had actually caught this guy in a tent, inside the scout hall, with a young scout sleeping on his shoulder and the other scouts were actually sleeping outside a tent in the hall. Well, that's unusual to say the least. You don't put tents inside a hall, you put them outside of a hall.

ADAM HARVEY: The scoutmaster's reputation had spread beyond Stockton too.

ARMAND HOITINK: This guy was glaringly obvious. I had one scout leader say to me from Nelson Bay, not very far away from Stockton, that they caught this guy naked in the showers cavorting with scouts. And I said, "Well, what did you do about it?" "Oh, nothing".

Armand Hoitink and the other Stockton leaders told Larkins he had to leave the troop. It meant Larkins had to move beyond the scout hall to find children.

ARMAND HOITINK: I got a phone call from the local pool manager, and from some of the parents, about Steve Larkins being down the pool, trying to solicit kids back to his house, saying he had formed another Stockton scout group. Well, that just can't happen.

ADAM HARVEY: Mr Hoitink called police.

ARMAND HOITINK: And they did get back to me later on that day to say, "Yep, we interviewed Larkins, he'd admitted to being down at the pool, he admitted trying to solicit kids back to his house.” He had bought them lollies and things like that at the pool. So it was the old boiled lolly thing, I mean, very stereotypical, I know, but it literally was like that. Police said there was nothing they could do. So they'd talked to him, he'd admitted it, but they'll keep an eye on him.

ADAM HARVEY: Larkins simply joined another scout troop in nearby Mayfield. Armand Hoitink complained to the Scouts' head office.

ARMAND HOITINK: They were keeping him in Scouts, but he would have no contact with children. Well, that wasn't true. 'Cause in late '97, as I said, I went up to Sea World, he was up there and I actually saw him walk into Sea World with a group of about seven or eight scouts, without supervision. So he was in charge of them. ...

... I called up the Scout Association at the time and I said to 'em, "Why? Why? What's he doing here? What's he doing here in charge of children"? They said, "Oh, we promised he could go." Oh great, fantastic, yeah. And both my wife and myself at the time were both in Scouts, my wife was called a Joey leader. And after Christmas we resigned.

ADAM HARVEY: The Scouts were just the first of many organisations to miss the danger posed by Steven Larkins. He later worked at these two youth shelters on the New South Wales Central Coast: Umina Youth Angle and Woy Woy Youth Cottage.

This is about all that's left of the notorious Kendall Grange boarding home, run by the St John of God religious order. For about 50 years, it was home to intellectually disabled and emotionally damaged children. Many of them were abused here. The order has paid out millions of dollars in compensation for the physical and sexual abuse that happened in places like this. Incredibly, it was where Steven Larkins ended up. He was hired to work here as a house parent, looking after troubled teenagers.

The experience helped him win a big job. In 2000 he was hired to head the Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services.

TERRY CHENERY, FMR HEAD, HUNTER ABORIGINAL CHILDREN'S SVCS: Everything to do with a child's life that you would expect a parent to do, we effectively played that role.

ADAM HARVEY: Terry Chenery replaced Larkins at the service. It was responsible for about 60 Indigenous children in foster care. His predecessor had parental responsibility for many of them.

TERRY CHENERY: And he could do whatever he liked with those children. He would take them fishing, he would take them to the movies. Camping. Whatever you like, he could do.

ADAM HARVEY: It's likely that Larkins abused some of them.

TERRY CHENERY: I think the evidence shows, from perpetrators all around the world, that people are unlikely to limit themselves to one or two if they're able to.

ADAM HARVEY: In 2003, a routine check required of people working with children unearthed child sex abuse complaints against Larkins, and a government agency ruled that he was a risk to children and should not be allowed unsupervised contact with them. Incredibly, the only person told about this was Larkins. He kept it to himself.

TERRY CHENERY: Strangely enough, that happened to me. Once I went there I put in my check and my executive officer at the time was on leave. All his emails were forwarded to me, so I got my own Working With Children Check back. The exact thing had happened with Steve Larkins.

ADAM HARVEY: In 2010, a worker at the service found a text message from Larkins on one boy's phone. Larkins wasn't sacked for another year. When the USB stick was found, it held images of boys having sex. Police were called and re-investigated the two earlier complaints from his time as Scout leader. And last year, Larkins was convicted of aggravated indecent assault and possession of child abuse material.

ARMAND HOITINK: I felt elated, really. I thought finally, they got him. But way too late. Probably 10, 13 years way too late.

ADAM HARVEY: Armand Hoitink is one of the few people who did anything to stop Steven Larkins. A Royal Commission witness, able to leave today with his head held high.