Suicide #1: How the church destroyed the life of altar boy Damian Jurd in northern NSW

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated 1 November 2018)

In the late 1990s, the Catholic Church paid a small amount to a former altar boy, Damian Jurd, to settle his complaint about having been sexually abused (at the age of 11) by a local priest, Father John Joseph Farrell (sometimes referred to as "Father F"). Damian said his life had been disrupted by this abuse and by the way the church protected Father Farrell. At the age of 28 (not long after this settlement), Damian took his own life, leaving two children of his own. This Broken Rites article gives some more information about Damian's tragic life.

Damian Jurd was a child in the town of Moree, a wheat and wool-growing area in north-western New South Wales, 600 kilometres from Sydney. Damian was one of the altar boys at the local Catholic church (the St Francis Xavier parish), where Father Farrell was an assistant priest from late 1981 to early 1984.

Several former altar boys in Moree have alleged that they had unfortunate encounters with Father Farrell, but the church discouraged these families from reporting the matter to the police. The church authorities quietly transferred Father Farrell from Moree to another parish (Tamworth) and they neglected to find out if any of Father Farrell's altar boys needed help or counselling.

One boy who needed help was Damian Jurd but the church leaders crushed him, destroying his life completely.

The story of Damian

During various court proceedings prior to 2016, the media was not permitted to publish John Joseph Farrell's name and he was often referred to as "Father F". Therefore, this Broken Rites article will use the label "Father F".

The following information about Damian Jurd is taken from official documents (and Broken Rites possesses copies of these documents).

Damian James Jurd was born on 7 March 1972, the youngest of four children in a devout Catholic family. According to his relatives and friends, Damian was originally a conscientious, enthusiastic pupil who achieved well at primary school and in sport. When he was aged 11, he was thrilled about being selected as an altar-boy in Moree and he began talking about joining the priesthood.

Damian soon had an encounter with Father F but he told nobody about this because he presumed that no Catholics would welcome such a complaint about a Catholic priest. Therefore Damian suffered in silence.

From that time, Damian developed behaviour problems, disrupting his life at home and at school. His parents sent him to a Catholic boarding school, conducted by religious Brothers, but he clashed with the Brothers and priests there and was suspended from this school.

By age 14 (in 1986), he was associating with an anti-social peer group and he came to the attention of the police. Because his parents were no longer able to manage Damian, the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services arranged for him to live with a foster mother in Tamworth.

There, Damian revealed to the foster carer something that he had not been able to tell his Catholic family — that he had been sexually assaulted by a Catholic priest.

Damian receives help

In 1987, because of his anti-social behaviour, Damian was held for three months in Minda Remand Centre (for boys under 16) in western Sydney. Hearing this, his former foster mother alerted the NSW Department of Youth and Community Services (Y.A.C.S.) about Damian being a sexual-assault victim. At the Minda centre, Damian was interviewed (in numerous sessions) by child protection worker Pauline Rockley (from the Y.A.C.S. Department) and also (in numerous sessions) by a psychiatrist, Dr W. Russell L. White, who specialised in treating children and adolescents. In these sessions, these counsellors obtained details of the sexual assault. Dr White accompanied Damian to the sexual assault centre at Westmead Hospital, where another doctor (Dr Paul Tait) also examined Damian. Dr Tait established that Damian had suffered trauma to the anus.

The counselling team agreed that that Damian had been harmed not only by the sexual assault but also by having to cope with the secret on his own. In addition, he had suffered the stress of being incarcerated in detention with anti-social youths, plus having to undergo several court appearances — all by the age of 15.

The psychiatrist Dr Russell White wrote in his report, dated 14 August 1987: "It is difficult to imagine a greater stress for a boy of his age and nature to have suffered... The effects on his life to date, I believe, have been disastrous, and this will have already taken its toll, maybe permanently, on his personality and identity development, over these vital first three years of early adolescence."

Child protection worker Pauline Rockley stated in a report (dated 17 August 1987) that, during these interviews, Damian "began to acknowledge his lack of trust in many adults". Damian began to recognize that "his criminal behaviours were a way of getting back at someone, anyone." The report recommended that Damian be dealt with as a child at risk, rather than as a juvenile offender. (This report is also signed by Neil Thredgold, district manager of the Merrylands Community Welfare Centre, western Sydney.)

The youth criminal justice authorities reported Damian's sexual assault to detectives in the NSW Police juvenile services bureau in Sydney. The psychiatrist Russell White was present while Damian was interviewed by detectives.

Police investigation

The detectives obtained a written, sworn statement from Damian, dated 23 July 1987. The detectives then instigated an investigation, conducted by Detective Sergeant Graham John Mulherin and Detective Beth Louise Connolly.

In Moree, the detectives easily found six boys who had a complaint about Father F but these "loyal Catholic" families refused to let their sons make a written police statement against a Catholic priest.

Therefore, the police were left to proceed with only one victim — Damian Jurd.

Damian's police statement

Broken Rites has obtained a copy of Damian's police statement, which is witnessed and counter-signed by Senior Constable Hugh Dundas.

The statement alleged that:

  • In early 1984, Father F took Damian on a weekend trip from Moree to an outlying town, Narrabri, where Father F would perform Mass (with Damian as his altar boy) for a priest who was away. While driving the car, Father F undid Damian's trousers and mauled the boy indecently. Father F also mauled Damian in the car while driving back to Moree. In the 1980s the NSW criminal statutes categorised these offences as indecent assault.
  • During the weekend away, in the presbytery at Narrabri, Father F allegedly committed further offences against Damian.

Being away from home and being in the custody of Father F, there was no escape for Damian — and he had no way of raising an alarm.

In his police statement, Damian explained why he had not reported the assaults in 1984: "I didn't tell anybody about what Father F****** had done to me because at that time I was very religious and he was my priest. My mum and I had talked about me becoming a priest when I got older and I really looked up to Father F******."

Father F in court

In early 1988, following an investigation by detectives from Sydney, Father F was charged in Narrabri Local Court with sexual offences against a child. The magistrate who heard the case was Raymond George Alexander Blissett, a Catholic who was acquanted with Father F. This Catholic magistrate halted the case, saying that he preferred to accept the word of a Catholic priest rather than a troubled boy.

The story of this court case is told in another article on this website (see a link below).

Broken Rites research

In September 1993 Broken Rites received a phone call from someone alerting us about the story of Damian Jurd in Moree.

We also had a phone call from Damian himself, who encouraged us to keep researching. At this time, Damian was aged 21. He had a partner and two children. His life was in a mess. He was trying to recover but still faced enormous difficulties.

Broken Rites then interviewed various people who possessed information about Damian's case and the church's handling of it.

The death of Damian

In the late 1990s, Damien Jurd demanded an apology from the Armidale diocese for having had his life disrupted by Father F. The diocese accepted Damian's complaint and, in order to discourage Damian (or others) from suing the diocese for damages in the Supreme Court, it made a discounted out-of-court compensation payment to Damian. The diocese considered that this was a low-cost way to make sure that it had no legal liability for damages.

Damian used this money as a deposit on a house for his partner and children. But he was still dogged by psychological depression. At the end of 2000 the depression became particularly bad and he was found unconscious in bed. Later, life support had to be withdrawn and Damien Jurd died on New Year's Day, 2001, aged 28.

Another death in western Sydney

In 1989, Father F was appointed as an assistant priest in the Parramatta diocese (west of Sydney), where he worked until 1992. (The Parramatta diocese includes a large number of western Sydney parishes.) Later,a former altar boy in the Merrylands parish, Daniel William Powell (born on 28 May 1979), alleged that he had been sexually abused at the age of 12 by Father F. In 2005 the church authorities accepted Daniel Powell's complaint and gave him a discounted out-of-court settlement. However, Daniel Powell took his own life, by hanging, on 25 November 2007, aged 28.

  • To see an interview with Damian Jurd's daughter, Claire Ann (on Prime 7 News, Tamworth, in May 2016), click HERE.
  • To see a Broken Rites article about another victim, Daniel Powell, click HERE.
  • And, to see a longer article by Broken Rites, about how the church authorities protected Father John Joseph Farrell, click HERE.