Kids’ hospital was paedo‘s hunting ground
A serial paedophile who spent almost three decades grooming, drugging and molesting vulnerable children - also filming and bragging about his crimes online - has been unmasked as a paediatric nurse who worked for 18 years on the children's ward at Launceston General Hospital in Tasmania until 2019.
Last October, police in Launceston laid more than a dozen charges against James 'Jim' Geoffrey Griffin, a 69-year-old man from Legana, who since 2001 had worked on Ward 4K, the paediatric unit attached to Launceston General Hospital.
The charges relate to sexual offences against children as young as 11 - abuse which Griffin admitted to during police questioning last year. The details of some crimes are so disturbing that news.com.au cannot publish them all.
RELATED: New law a victory for paedophiles
The seven-page charge sheet, obtained exclusively by news.com.au, spans 28 years, with sex crimes dating back to at least 1987, when Griffin worked as a volunteer ambulance officer for the Tasmanian Ambulance Service. The sexual crimes continue through to 2019, at which time Griffin was working at the hospital while also volunteering as "medic" and "masseuse" for a local children's sporting team.
On his arrest in October last year, police also discovered a "significant amount" of child pornography downloaded from the internet, as well as child pornography he had self-created. Some included children from the hospital ward.
On internet chat sites, detectives then uncovered examples of Mr Griffin "bragging" to others, outlining how he would use various drugs to sedate little girls "in order to sexually abuse them."
Now, nurses from the hospital are breaking their silence, revealing how he would use the ward as his own personal hunting ground to "groom" and "target" sick and vulnerable kids. In some cases, he even preyed upon the children of his own colleagues.
The explosive revelations have been unearthed by investigative journalist, Camille Bianchi, who is set to expose all in a compelling true crime podcast called The Nurse.
'BRAGGING HOW HE WOULD DRUG YOUNG GIRLS TO SEDATE THEM'
Keelie McMahon was about seven years old the first time she met Griffin at a hospital Christmas party which she was attending with her mother, Annette, a fellow nurse on the children's ward.
"They used to do Christmas parties for the 4K Ward and obviously quite often he'd be there," says Keelie, now aged 23.
"My little sister was about two, I think, so I would have been about seven and that's the first Christmas party I remember meeting Jim at."
RELATED: Schoolgirl's camping rape horror
For years, Annette and her family trusted Griffin, spending weekends and sharing vacations with him and his family.
"I was about 14 [when he] started to groom me," says Keelie.
"It was just showing me a lot more attention than he would most people. He used to hug everyone so that was nothing unusual but he started getting a bit more hands on, longer hugs. I remember him introducing me as his 'special girl'. If we were staying at his house he'd offer to give us back rubs to help us sleep. But I still tried to convince myself he was just being Jim, he was just being friendly."
That grooming escalated and one night in 2011, while 14-year-old Keelie was attending a sleepover at his place, Griffin came up to where she was laying.
"There were a fair few of us there watching movies and then once we decided to go to sleep, that's when he decided to take it a bit further with me."
With other children sleeping close by, Griffin brazenly sexually assaulted Keelie.
"I remember waking up the next morning and going out to the kitchen and Jim just acted like nothing had happened. He just kept talking to me normally and went about his day like it hadn't happened, which made me second guess what had happened and I started to question myself."
RELATED: Text messages that exposed a rapist
Keelie sent her mum a text message asking to be picked up.
"Me and mum are like best friends. She's definitely the person I tell everything to, except one of the most important things that ever happened to me. She was such good friends with Jim, I didn't want to put a strain on their relationship," says Keelie.
But six months later, during a shared family camping trip, Griffin - then aged 62 - sexually assaulted Keelie again.
"I thought maybe I had provoked him somehow - I don't know how, that's just the conclusion I came up with: that I had somehow invited him to touch me inappropriately and assault me as a 14-year-old girl," she says.
Ashamed and scared, Keelie stayed silent.
Until, that was, she learned that she wasn't alone.
In May last year, another young woman, Alice* walked into a Launceston police station revealing that between the ages of 11 and 14, Griffin had groomed and repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
According to the charge sheet, the abuse against Alice involved "sexual intercourse" at which time he was aged between 58 and 63.
In another Australian jurisdiction, Griffin might have been charged with rape of a child, but in Tasmania, the name of the offence he was charged under was the euphemistically titled "maintaining a sexual relationship with a young person under the age of 17 … to whom you were not married".
Griffin was then interviewed by police where he "made admissions of criminal sexual misconduct in relation to her."
As happens in small communities, news soon got around that Alice had reported Griffin to police, and when Keelie learned that Alice had also been sexually assaulted by the same man who had preyed upon her, she decided to open up and tell her mother. Annette went into shock and had to take stress leave from the ward.
"When I finally realised 'yes this is what happened' I can remember crying and that primal scream," says Annette. She fired off a text message to her "old friend" Jim.
"How dare you Jim. How f*****g DARE you. I trusted you. My daughter trusted you. She never told me until now because 'he's such a nice man' and she 'didn't want to ruin your life' … Well, consider it well and truly ruined. Don't bother replying."
Keelie remembers that moment well: "Mum was obviously very shocked and then I think the anger started to come out. Once I told Mum, everything happened so quickly. A Detective from the police got in touch with me and I had to go in and make my statement.
"Two weeks later I got a message from the Detective that said they had charged Jim."
That was September last year.
By October, a total of five female victims had come forward to police, making similar complaints of sexual abuse ranging from the late 1980s through to 2012.
Police then searched Mr Griffin's Legana home where they located extensive amounts of child pornography and in an online forum dated March 2015, they also discovered a post of his. He was bragging to others, explaining how he would drug young girls to sedate them so that he could film himself abusing them.
The details of that abuse are so perverse that news.com.au has elected not to publish further information.
In yet another search, police then unearthed "electronic devices" which contained indecent images "of children apparently taken in his role as paediatric nurse" as well as other indecent images of yet another colleague's child, who is not Keelie.
'IT'S LIKE VOLDEMORT, YOU AREN'T ALLOWED TO SAY HIS NAME'
On October 3 charges were laid. But then, 10 days later, Griffin attempted to take his own life. He was found on October 14 in his home, sitting in a chair. There was paperwork and bills organised on his dining room table - as if he was putting his affairs in order - along with family photo albums and sealed letters addressed to his family containing cash.
But James Griffin was not dead.
He'd threatened to kill himself earlier, even telling one victim he would "die before going to prison."
Griffin was rushed to the same hospital where his own colleagues were required to try to revive him.
"Some had heard rumours by then," says podcast host Camille Bianchi "but most had no idea.
"A lot of the staff had been 'groomed' by him too. They'd seen him befriend patients on social media, or give them backrubs, or even carry naked little girls back from the shower. They might have raised an eyebrow, but he was so convincing: he was part of the furniture, a trusted friend, someone who made everyone believe he was just a 'father figure' willing to extend an extra arm of support to vulnerable families like single mums, or patients with mental health issues."
But they were also beginning to learn of the charges and the events which triggered his suicide attempt.
"How can you be that person and be so evil at the same time? I thought he was genuine," says one nurse on the condition of anonymity.
"He groomed a lot of us," says another. "I think he showed a different side of himself to different people."
And then, suddenly, he died.
On October 18 in Launceston General Hospital, Griffin was pronounced dead. A coroner's report would later find that "when he took the drugs which caused his death he did so with the express intention of ending his own life voluntarily and alone. No doubt the charges he was facing at the time of his death motivated his action."
On Ward 4K though, nurses were in shock as gradually news of both the death and the charges began to leak out.
The whole ward was "genuinely traumatised", says Bianchi.
"They felt like they lost him twice. The day he died, and then the days later when they found out who he really was.
"They were grieving both Jims: the loss of the Jim they knew and the horror of the one they were just beginning to meet."
Speaking to Bianchi, one nurse commented: "It's like Voldemort, you aren't allowed to say his name".
HE ROBBED US OF OUR DAY IN COURT
Of course, the nurses weren't the only ones impacted.
"I didn't know how I was meant to feel or how I was allowed to feel," says Keelie.
"Jim was charged with indecent assault against me and then he died. That was it. It all just happened so quickly: it would have been within a month [of reporting and] it was over."
Keelie and the other survivors are now frustrated that the court system failed to hold him in jail or prevent him from taking the coward's way out.
"His suicide was a 'f*** you' to the victims and to the whole process," says Bianchi.
"He took the easy way out. He deprived his victims of their day in court and the chance to look their predator in the face and say 'this is how you hurt me'.
"These people - the ones he hurt as children, the ones who came forward and reported him to police - they were just beginning to find their voice and agency again. They had waited years. They wanted answers. But he was released by the courts without adequate supervision and now they will never get justice.
"There will be no answers, no resolution, no validation of their suffering. When he died the cogs of justice just creaked to a halt. It was 'case closed'."
Comparing Griffin's death to the alleged suicide of infamous paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, Bianchi says she was determined to make a podcast to give the survivors their chance to be heard.
"He got to choose his way out. He got to have power over the outcome which is, once again, power over his victims too.
"There was too much 'unfinished business', and up until now, he's been able to write his own ending. This podcast is their day in court."
HOSPITAL REFUSES TO RELEASE MORE THAN 100 SECRET DOCUMENTS
Ordinarily, one might expect that the story of a paediatric nurse killing himself directly after being charged with molesting multiple children would make huge headlines around the country.
But even in a town ripe with gossip, the case has been all but hushed up.
"This is a story you don't know, unless you live in Launceston" says Bianchi, "and even then, it's been whispered to you in the pub, or passed only by word-of-mouth.
"People are scared. Scared to lose jobs. Scared to upset those who are covering up what's happened."
Griffin was connected in various circles of power and the hospital has so far not co-operated with the investigation.
"Nothing about this has been straight forward. The story that was first brought to me was that these women wanted to speak and no media was interested or willing to touch it. People had tried, but it always fell over," says Bianchi.
"I'm not the first journalist to know about it. Multiple journalists do. But local media is often under-resourced and the ramifications of publishing something like this are very different in a small community where everyone knows each other, compared to a capital city.
"In regional media you can't burn your sources and when you start to call some of these big institutions to account and lay hefty allegations, or even just ask too many questions, you can put a target on your back.
"You can come under pressure from editors not to burn bridges because you'll be cutting off a future pipeline of information and stories, not just for yourself, but you may in fact be jeopardising your entire team's access to politicians and information."
Protecting an investigation against leaks is also extremely difficult in a small community, as probing questions have a way of tipping off subjects, and can even trigger defamation proceedings if the questions themselves are deemed libellous.
"If you don't know something and you're trying to firm it up in good faith you have to be very, very careful in how you do it," says Bianchi. "Many journalists tried to do this story, but it always ended up in the 'too hard' basket, because local newsrooms just don't have the bandwidth."
News.com.au and Bianchi have now both obtained the coroner's report and the original police charge sheet, but even that took months to obtain.
A further Freedom of Information request (known as Right to Information in Tasmania) has so far been completely blocked by Tasmania's Health Department.
The request was first submitted in April 2020. It asks for any information relating to complaints about James Geoffrey Griffin, along with various other information.
The request yielded a schedule of 101 documents, but all 101 have been redacted with the department citing 'privacy concerns'.
However what that schedule of redacted documents does confirm, is that Launceston General Hospital was in receipt of complaints against Griffin dating back to at least 2009. When Bianchi and news.com.au contacted the federal health watchdog, AHPRA, to determine whether the complaints were ever passed along to them, as required, that line of questioning revealed they had no record of the hospital ever having forwarded the 2009 complaint, or another complaint which had been lodged in 2017.
"This was a serial premeditated predator," says Bianchi. "James Griffin planned how and when he could abuse young children - and put himself in the best possible situations to do it: he preyed on sick kids. I don't understand how or why complaints weren't forwarded, or why we are being stonewalled now.
"The victims want this information released. The public will want to know. It is most certainly in the public interest to release those 100 plus secret documents."
A complaint has now been lodged with the Tasmanian Ombudsman, requesting that they review the Health Department's decision not to release documents - but that process may take up to 400 days on average.
The Department of Health has been contacted for comment.
THE COST OF SPEAKING UP
Despite these hurdles, the podcast has now been released and is expected to send shockwaves through Tasmania.
"For the nurses who are speaking up, their priority is that it never happens again and that all victims have support and opportunity to get redress," says Bianchi.
"They want it publicly known and acknowledged that the children in their care were exposed to a predator and they want answers, too.
"It sits heavily on them that a child may come back one day and say 'what did you do once you knew?' and they want to be able to answer that question'."
Bianchi says they are also risking their careers to do so: "In a small town there aren't many other employment prospects for them and they are very fearful."
For the survivors, of course, the potential cost is even higher.
"Not everyone in Launceston can accept that he was a monster or had that duality. These people's lives are all intertwined and it's a very painful process for people to come to terms with what's happened," says Bianchi.
"This makes the burden on survivors that much higher. They are weighing up the cost of silence and the cost of speaking. Sometimes it's not as clear cut as saying 'the truth will set you free', because in many cases the truth will add an extra burden of scrutiny and trauma and they are risking friendships and relationships by speaking out."
And yet, Keelie, Annette and others remain determined to speak.
They want other children and survivors of sexual abuse to feel less alone and to know that help is available and that the victim is never at fault.
"I think when I first started talking to police and my counsellor, that's when I realised he didn't assault me because of something I did," says Keelie.
"He did it because of how messed up he is and that has nothing to do with me. It was just the wrong place, wrong time, really. And I had no place to be blamed for it."
Camille Bianchi's True Crime podcast The Nurse is available now via Spotify, Apple podcasts or any podcast app.
Nina Funnell is a freelance journalist and this reporting is funded by the Walkley Public Fund.
* Name changed.
Originally published as Kids' hospital was paedo's hunting ground