The now-defunct Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Detention Centre.
The now-defunct Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Detention Centre.

Detention supervisor ‘repeatedly abused’ vulnerable boys

A former corrections officer has been jailed for molesting vulnerable boys at a now-defunct Brisbane youth detention centre, decades after the victims first blew the whistle.

Sunshine Coast man Kern Urban, 71, would reward boys with cigarettes after he had sexually abused them at the Wilson Youth Hospital, a state-run detention centre that housed disadvantaged and troubled children.

The former supervisor performed oral sex on the vulnerable boys, aged 10-14, as they slept in their dormitories and continued the abuse when he took them on trips visit to their families.

Urban faced Brisbane District Court on Thursday where he pleaded guilty to 13 charges of indecent treatment of a child, relating to three boys he abused between 1975-1982.

One of his victims, who wished to be known only as Shane, told authorities about the abuse 20 years ago during the Forde Inquiry which investigated child abuse in Queensland institutions.

Shane, now 54, said he was not taken seriously because he was in jail himself.

"They basically thought I was full of bulls--t," the Caboolture man said.

Prosecutor Alexandra Baker said all three victims made "repeated approaches to law enforcement" but it wasn't until the 2017 Royal Commission into child sexual abuse that the investigation went ahead in earnest.

Ms Baker said the abuse continued to have a "serious, ongoing and profound" impact on each of the men.

Shane was just 10 when he was abused by Urban, who gave him cigarettes and food before molesting him until he was physically ill.

He told the court he still has panic attacks and is triggered when he smells a certain type of aftershave or sees anyone who looks like Urban.

"You think Dennis Ferguson was bad, this guy was worse," Shane said outside court.

Barrister Steve Zillman said Urban was struggling with alcoholism and his sexual identity at the time he worked as a supervisor at the centre.

"It was a most troubling and upsetting period of his life," Mr Zillman said.

"My client is of course deeply ashamed of his behaviour and has lived with that for some time."


Inside the Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Detention Centre in 1999.
Inside the Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Detention Centre in 1999.

Mr Zillman said there was no violence or threats made to the children and Urban was now "doing what he can to atone" for his wrongdoing.

Judge Jeffrey Clarke said the statements by the victims were "brief but powerful" and showed the impact Urban's "gross breach of trust" continued to have on the three men.

"You prevailed on vulnerable children who were in a particularly vulnerable position," Judge Clarke said.

"You were supposed to discharge your duties providing support and assistance to these boys.

"Instead, for your own sexual gratification you took advantage of the situation."

Urban was sentenced to three years' jail but will be released after serving nine months behind bars.

Outside court, Shane said he spent longer in jail for stealing a car.

"At the end of the day it's not the judge's fault," he said.

"The law and government need to change so there are minimum mandatory sentences for child molesters."

The Wilson Youth Hospital, later renamed the Sir Leslie Wilson Youth Detention Centre, closed in 2001 after a recommendation made by the Forde Inquiry.

*For 24-hour support phone Queensland's DVConnect on 1800 811 811 or MensLine on 1800 600 636, NSW's Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463 or the national hotline 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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