Sources were telling the ABC that children as young as 10 years old were being held in adult maximum-security police watch houses around Queensland. They were also being told that children were being held for weeks, and sometimes in isolation in so-called suicide smocks.
The ABC cultivated whistleblowers inside the system and inside government, and confirmed this was indeed happening. Right to information documents later provided a detailed insight into specific cases, including:
- A girl was found to be pregnant while locked up inside a watch house, but left there anyway
- A girl had a finger severed in a cell door
- An Indigenous with the cognitive functioning of a six-year old was held for days in a watch house
- At least three children had attempted suicide in a watch house
- A child was held for weeks in isolation.
- A boy was kept naked for days inside a cell.
The ABC also obtained emails showing the Queensland Government at the highest levels had been warned about the situation for more than a year, and had even been provided with some of the specific cases listed above.
An ABC Four Corners investigation interviewed the Child Safety Minister who admitted that she did not know of specific cases. The team also spent three days and nights filming inside Brisbane City Watch House.
The impact of the Four Corners investigation by reporter Mark Willacy was immediate and dramatic. The day after broadcast, the Queensland Premier ordered an investigation, and within four days she had announced the creation of a new Youth Justice Department. Within weeks all children had been removed from police watch houses in Queensland.
Without the help of sources and whistleblowers, and without the state’s Right to Information regime, this story would not have been told.