The Sunshine Coast Daily reports…
“A Sunshine Coast church leader says in hindsight he should have asked more questions about Brett Peter Cowan before allowing him into his church back in the 1990s.
The comments come amid claims that Daniel Morcombe’s killer allegedly tried to rape a 15-year-old girl attending the church and the church’s leadership tried to cover it up.
Suncoast Christian Church senior pastor Dr Chas Gullo has denied ever been told about an attempted rape, saying if he had he would have immediately reported it to police.
According to a News Ltd report, Cowan sexually assaulted the young woman at his home, where he had stopped to shower, on the way to take her to a church soup kitchen in Nambour.
The woman says she told a friend who told others and eventually Dr Gullo was informed.
Dr Gullo was adamant that if he was told about an attempted rape he would remember it and would have taken quick action.
He said Cowan had attended the church for about three years after being taken in by pastors Keith and Jenny Philbrook after a request from authorities.
Mr Philbrook, who is now retired, told APN he had agreed to take his nephew in because Cowan was in the process of completing a sexual rehabilitation course, had become a Christian, was off drugs and attending church meetings.
But he said Cowan was still under the responsibility of the parole system, who had full knowledge of his shocking past, unlike his family.
Mr Philbrook said he was only aware that Cowan was involved in the ‘digital rape’ of a child in Darwin and that he had left the child.
Dr Gullo said he was told that Cowan had come out of jail for rape, but said he was not aware that it involved a child.
Mr Philbrook said his recollection was that pastors had been told at a staff meeting that a child was involved.
He said boundaries were placed around Cowan at the church, including that he was not to be around young children.
Mr Philbrook said he was made aware of an accusation last year by a woman about “an inappropriate remark made by Brett to her in the sound control room.”
“She was hurt by the fact that in her opinion the church didn’t deal with it satisfactorily.”
Mr Philbrook said he rang the woman to apologise for any hurt she may have incurred and assured her the church had taken steps to ensure nothing happened again.
“She appeared to indicate she was happy with that and would move on.”
Dr Gullo said his church had a strong focus on protecting children and would never allow a known paedophile into the congregation.
“He would be removed immediately,” he said.
Church staff or volunteers who had anything to do with children had to be cleared by authorities and have a blue card, while the church also put on yearly training to ensure there were people in the congregation to watch out for suspicious behaviour.
Dr Gullo said it was his personal view, based on many studies, that serious child sex offenders like Cowan could not be rehabilitated.
But he admits no church can stop paedophiles from trying to target children at their meetings.
“Our responsibility is to protect our children and minimise risks,” he said.
Dr Gullo said he remembers little of Cowan, adding that he stopped coming to the church a short time after he was married.
He had long left the church when Daniel Morcombe was snatched, just metres away from the church’s carpark.
A relative of Cowan’s, who asked not to be named, told APN that even she had not been aware of the horrific crimes committed by Cowan until she had seen the details in the media in the past couple of days.
She said she had ‘beaten herself up’ in recent days, ashamed that she had been so ‘naive’.
But she said she was equally angry that Cowan had even been released from prison given the horrific nature of his earlier crimes.
“I was naive to believe the judicial system had done its job.”
The Sunshine Coast Daily further reports…
“A retired church pastor who took Daniel Morcombe’s killer into his home says the community has been let down by shocking failures in the parole system.
Keith Philbrook said he and his wife received a request from authorities to provide a home for their nephew Brett Peter Cowan in early 1998 as part of his early release from prison.
He said he attended a meeting with Brett, his parents and a prison psychologist where Cowan told of ‘him digitally raping a young child in Darwin and leaving the child’.
But he said the family was never aware of the sordid details that have been made public in recent days.
“It was inferred to us that in providing a safe home for Brett to live at, we were not responsible for Brett and he was to report to his parole officer regularly,” Mr Philbrook said in a statement released to APN.
“I was actually surprised at the casual attitude of this department as Brett didn’t always attend and no check seemed to be made.”
Mr Philbrook said he and his wife had only agreed to take Cowan in on the basis that he ‘had or was in the process of completing the sexual offenders course, his attending of the Christian meetings, being eligible for parole and having been assessed by the authorities and considered suitable to be released into the community.”
“Maybe we were naïve in thinking that Brett was worth giving a second chance. All impressions were that he was clean (from drugs) and willing to respond to support.
“He attended church with us, as this was one of the requirements of his coming to us, and boundaries were placed around him and he was not to be around young children.
“He was very willing to help, which was his nature and became involved in the video/sound dept as he had some knowledge of IT from his time in prison, being able to build computers.
“Most of this was performed out in the main auditorium in full view of all.”
Mr Philbrook said after a period of time Cowan’s behavior began to deteriorate at home, particularly after he had his own vehicle.
While still on parole, he was staying out late and going out at unusual times of night, using the excuse of catching up with mates or going fishing.
“After addressing him over some personal issues that were of great concern to us, including lying, our relationship began to become strained and eventually he moved out to his own flat and the rest is history,” he said.
Mr Philbrook said he was concerned that unfair accusations were being levelled at Suncoast Christian Church for allowing him into the congregation.
“With the benefit of hindsight and much tighter controls on sex offenders, that would not have taken place back then,” he said.
“What was put in place was probably considered normal safeguards for 1998.”
“Perhaps rather than pointing the finger at the church or an individual, who were acting in good faith at the time, (take) a closer look at the system that allowed and seemed to encourage the release of a serial offender into the community.
“They knew much more of his offending history than we did, as much has only just been revealed since the jury found him guilty.
“We feel let down by the whole parole system. There did not seem to be any checking up on the parolee after he was released as at no time were we contacted about him.”
Discloure: Mark Furler, who has covered Daniel’s story extensively including as editor in chief of the Sunshine Coast Daily, attended Suncoast Christian Church for numerous years. However, he never knew Cowan or any matters relating to him involving the church.”