An ex-Illawarra Family and Community Services worker has confessed to verbally abusing and threatening an autistic, non-verbal boy he was looking after at a government-run respite care centre in November 2016.
Lennard Downes pleaded guilty to two counts of intimidation in Wollongong Local Court this week, admitting he was the voice behind a series of chilling, aggressive threats which were caught on tape after the boy’s parents noticed changes in their son’s behaviour after his trips to centre and concealed a recording device in his bag.
However, Downes has pleaded not guilty to allegations he physically assaulted the boy, leaving him with a bruise on his chin after an overnight stay at the facility on November 6.
In six individual audio recordings played during Downes’ court hearing, the 36-year-old can be heard aggressively and repeatedly ordering the boy to “eat” as he tried to spoon-feed him. The court heard the boy had a habit of spitting his food out.
When the boy apparently refuses to comply with the request, Downes tells him “f---ing spit it out and I will f---ing open your mouth”.
In other recorded interactions, Downes twice threatens to hit the boy if he doesn’t do as he’s told, and at one stage tells him if he doesn’t swallow what’s already in his mouth “I’ll break ya neck”. On another occasion he says “f---ing behave you little c--- or I will f---ing smash you”.
Meantime, the boy’s mother gave evidence that she noticed a bruise on her son’s chin begin to appear just hours after he returned home.
She took a photo of the bruise the following day and sought an urgent meeting with her son’s caseworker.
The mother denied under cross examination from defence lawyer Cate Doosey that the bruise could have been the result of an accident a few days earlier, in which the boy became trapped by his thigh between a trampoline and a steel metal staircase, leaving a large bruise on his thigh.
“I saw no injuries to his face or neck at the time,” she said, although admitted she’d concentrated more on his lower extremities.
A specialist paediatric doctor who gave evidence in the hearing said the shape and placement of the bruising on the boy’s chin was consistent with him being forcefully held, however she said she was unable to determine whether the injury had been sustained by a static force (holding) or a hitting force.
She also said she’d not been asked to consider whether the bruising could have been the result of the boy hitting himself in the face – something Downes told police was a regular occurrence.
The hearing has been adjourned to November for further evidence to be called.