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Former tennis boss admits organisation 'disregarded' welfare of alleged abuse victim -

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MARK COLVIN: The former head of Tennis NSW has admitted that the organisation disregarded the welfare of a girl who made sexual abuse allegations against a top coach.

At today's public hearing of the child abuse Royal Commission, Craig Watson said he believed the girl when she first came forward at the end of the 90s.

What's more, he said, the entire board had the same view.

But - and it's a big but - the minutes of the relevant meetings have mysteriously gone missing.

The board took no action against the alleged perpetrator, Noel Callaghan, who has always maintained his innocence.

Thomas Oriti reports.

THOMAS ORITI: Noel Callaghan was highly sought after in the 1990s by players who wanted to reach the elite level.

His clients included big names like Wally Masur, Sam Stosur and Jelena Dokic.

Others were less well-known, including one under the pseudonym BXJ, whose mother testified to the commission.

But in 1999, after a meeting with Tennis NSW executives, she quit the sport altogether.

What had happened to make her feel so desperate?

The CEO at the time, Craig Watson, was there at that meeting.

And today, Mr Watson told counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, that he had believed the evidence that Noel Callaghan had abused BXJ.

CRAIG WATSON: I believed that there was enough in that report to suggest that BXJ was to be believed.

NAOMI SHARP: Is it your evidence that the board of Tennis NSW also believed BXJ's account?

CRAIG WATSON: Well I believe they believed there was enough evidence there to believe her, and subsequently wanted a second opinion.

THOMAS ORITI: Tennis NSW commissioned a law firm to investigate the allegations, and its final report concluded that they were "more likely than not" to be true.

But the board then asked for a second opinion from another lawyer.

He cast doubt over the girl's claims.

As a result, Tennis NSW took no action against Noel Callaghan at the time.

Today, Justice Peter McClellan wanted to know why a second lawyer was even approached.

CRAIG WATSON: We were seeking as much help as we could get to make a decision.

PETER MCCLELLAN: Well maybe you were, but was the answer not obvious to you?

CRAIG WATSON: I think we were trying to act in the best interests of everyone, and would we do it differently? Would I do it differently? I think so.

THOMAS ORITI: Craig Watson found it hard to answer some of today's questions.

One reason: Tennis NSW appears to have "lost" eight years of board minutes, including documents from the 1999 meetings.

The organisation's current chief executive, Alistair MacDonald, told counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp that had come as a shock to him.

NAOMI SHARP: Are you going to cause any investigations to be conducted to determine why board minutes are missing for that fairly lengthy period?


NAOMI SHARP: Do you have any inkling at this stage as to why those minutes are missing?

ALISTAIR MACDONALD: We've looked extensively and will continue to do so. But it's of high concern for this matter as well as history of the company.

THOMAS ORITI: Craig Watson couldn't offer an explanation either.

But he admitted that the situation involving BXJ could've been handled better.

NAOMI SHARP: No counselling was offered to BXJ, was it?

CRAIG WATSON: Correct, correct.

NAOMI SHARP: She was never told that in fact the investigator believed her account?


NAOMI SHARP: She was never told that anyone in Tennis NSW believed her account.

CRAIG WATSON: That's correct.

NAOMI SHARP: You personally had observed how distressed she was?


NAOMI SHARP: There was a complete disregard for her welfare and interests in this matter on the part of Tennis NSW.

CRAIG WATSON: I'll accept. Yes.

NAOMI SHARP: That's right?


THOMAS ORITI: Noel Callaghan was eventually charged with offences relating to three children but he was either found not guilty, or in the case of BXJ, the charges were dropped.

He has always maintained his innocence.

But counsel assisting, Naomi Sharp, asked former CEO Craig Watson whether the governing body was trying to protect its top coach.

NAOMI SHARP: Is it the case that Tennis NSW closed ranks to protect Mr Callaghan?

CRAIG WATSON: No it's not.

NAOMI SHARP: Are you sure about that?

CRAIG WATSON: I'm very sure.

THOMAS ORITI: The NSW Institute of Sport has told the royal commission that despite its partnership with the tennis governing body, it was blocked from some of the information in the BXJ case.

As for the opinion supporting the girl's allegations back in 1999, the institute's CEO, Charles Turner, said he only found out about it last week.

And the current CEO of Tennis NSW, Alistair MacDonald, said he wasn't aware of some of the issues until now.

NAOMI SHARP: Do you consider that it would be appropriate for Tennis NSW to make an apology to BXJ?

ALISTAIR MACDONALD: I think that question I would have to discuss with the board but my moral compass would suggest so.

THOMAS ORITI: But the lawyer representing BXJ's mother questioned why that discussion with the board hadn't already taken place.

A representative from Tennis Australia will be called to give evidence tomorrow.

MARK COLVIN: Thomas Oriti.