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Paedophile schoolteacher David Harkess coached WACA elite junior cricket teams in 1970s and 80s

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A paedophile schoolteacher whose victims were left suicidal from their abuse is the latest former cricket coach to be identified in an ABC Sport investigation of Western Australian Cricket Association (WACA) elite junior squads of the 1970s and 1980s.

Warning: This article contains content that readers may find distressing

David “Harry” Harkess, who in 1989 was convicted of 55 counts of indecently dealing with 21 schoolboys, coached elite WACA under-16, under-15, under-14 and under-12 squads for five seasons from 1977-78 to 1981-1982.

ABC Sport understands WACA powerbrokers of the 1970s and 80s knew the nature of Harkess’s conviction at the time it became public, but WACA chief executive Christina Matthews said the organisation’s current leadership was not aware of Harkess’s involvement at the WACA until contacted by ABC Sport.

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Harkess’s stint as a WACA junior coach overlapped with that of convicted sex offender Ian King, who coached WACA junior squads until at least 1977-78, and former WACA junior development officer and youth cricket council secretary Roy Wenlock, whose abuse of boys he had coaxed into “drinks boy” duties at the WACA was revealed by ABC Sport last month.

Wenlock’s stint at the WACA lasted 29 years between 1979 and his death in 2007, but his sexual abuse of boys was only publicly revealed in 2012, as part of a West Australian parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse of boys at Anglican hostels.

King is currently serving a 16-year jail sentence for his sexual abuse of boys in elite junior cricket squads administered by Cricket ACT. In 2006, a former Cricket ACT coaching colleague of King’s told police that he and another coach had been warned by Western Australian counterparts upon King’s arrival in Canberra that King had offended against boys in Western Australia.

To hundreds of boys he taught and coached, Harkess was known as “Uncle Harry”.(Supplied)

Matthews said the WACA is taking the issue seriously and would consider options including a formal investigation of its elite junior programs of the 70s and 80s.

“We certainly have to think about how we look back and decide whether an investigation has to be undertaken,” Matthews said.

“It’s very, very sad and disappointing to hear that there may be further victims of sexual abuse out there. It’s something we have to look into more deeply and get to the bottom of it.

“Again, I’m very sorry to anybody who suffered abuse while partaking in any WACA activities. I want to assure people that we have a lot of very strong, robust programs in place to make sure that can’t happen now, and they’re constantly being reviewed.

“That does not help survivors, but it does indicate that we’ve learned from the past and will continue to be stronger in the future.”

Roy Wenlock at the museum
Sex offender Roy Wenlock’s time at the WACA overlapped with David Harkess’s.

In addition to his WACA coaching positions, Harkess, who died at 52 in 1999, also coached cricket, football and numerous others sports in the Perth suburbs of Mosman Park and Balga, and for many years in a West Australian wheatbelt town.

‘Everyone’s favourite uncle’

To associates on the West Australian cricket scene, David Alan Harkess was known as “Harry”. To many of the hundreds of children he encountered in schools, churches and sports clubs around Western Australia, he was “Uncle Harry”.

Decades after his abuse of children was revealed, Harkess is still described as a “Pied Piper” character within the communities he offended in. Survivors say he was a popular teacher and mentor who could instantly win the trust of any child he encountered.

But in May 1989, Harkess’s life unravelled in Perth’s Children’s Court, where he pleaded guilty to 55 charges of indecently dealing with 21 boys from a small wheatbelt town in which he taught for seven years. Harkess was sentenced to 18 months in jail and minutes later attempted suicide in a holding cell, before being transported to Fremantle jail.

Newspaper reports at the time said at least four boys had been left suicidal by Harkess’s abuse and others had suffered nightmares, psychological disorders and displayed symptoms of anorexia. The West Australian government was so fearful of the impact on the town that it sent a delegation of 12 psychologists to deal with the fallout.

At the time of Harkess’s conviction, a gag order prevented media outlets from naming the town because the risk of identifying victims was too great. Harkess had abused at least one-third of the town’s 100 boys.

But even outside court there were also disturbing insights into Harkess’s ability to cultivate support, groom parents and maintain a psychological hold on those who fell under his spell. A contingent of parents belonging to the town’s Church of Christ community stepped forward in Harkess’s defence, saying the town had “no hate for him”.

“Children were his whole life,” one mother said of Harkess.

“He spent so much time with them, coaching junior teams in football, cricket, basketball, hockey and playing and coaching senior teams as well.”

In 1987, the town had named him its citizen of the year. In court, Harkess’s pastor described him as “everyone’s favourite uncle”.

Yet other sections of the town’s community had long harboured suspicions about Harkess and were “disgusted” when supporters flocked to him.

“The general community feeling is that we do not want to see Harkess here ever,” one resident told The West Australian.

‘Moulding teenage boys into gentlemen’

According to WACA annual reports, Harkess was appointed to his first WACA coaching positions for the 1977-78 season — a period in which, survivors told ABC Sport, he was sexually abusing schoolboys placed in his care.

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