Former youth leader on sex-abuse counts

By Juliet Rowan

"I spent the last 20 years trying to forget. Some things are very, very difficult to forget."

These are the words of a man who yesterday told a court he was sexually abused by an Auckland Boys Brigade leader as a boy.

The man was testifying on the first day of the trial of Neville Cyril Collins, a former St John ambulance officer and leader of the brigade, in the High Court at Rotorua.

Collins has denied 37 charges relating to alleged abuse of six boys between 1984 and 1998.

The boys were aged between 11 and 16 and Collins between 21 and 35 when the abuse allegedly occurred.

Now a 44-year-old married father of two, Collins faces 25 charges of indecent assault, six of sexual violation, three of assault, two of attempted indecent assault and one of performing an indecent act.

Some of the charges are representative, meaning they relate to at least one incident but the complainants have not been able to provide specific details about the time and place of the alleged abuse.

The court heard that the first of the alleged victims, now aged 35, was abused by Collins after joining the Boys Brigade when he was about 10 years old.

The victim, who cannot be named, said he became friends with Collins through the brigade and Collins - who was about 10 years older than him - would take him on outings alone.

Once, at Collins' urging, they made a hut out of furniture and blankets in a school hall and slept next to each other inside. The man said he awoke to find Collins masturbating him.

"I was absolutely terrified," the man said. "I wanted it to stop. I felt scared ... There was no recourse or ability for me to seek help [and] I was scared that if I said something or actively resisted, that things might become worse."

Other complainants have alleged Collins committed acts including sodomy and an assault involving a blindfold, chain and hot spoons.

The abuse allegedly occurred at Boys Brigade camps in Auckland and other parts of the North Island, a house in Cambridge where Collins lived with his wife and children, in his car and by public roads, and at an outdoor training camp he ran called Exercise Novice Warrior.

Crown prosecutor Rob Ronayne said only two of the victims knew each other, but their stories of abuse had "strikingly similar features".

"[It is a] virtual impossibility that all of their sad stories amount to a coincidence."

Collins, wearing a black suit and blue tie, sat stony-faced throughout yesterday's proceedings, answering "not guilty" in a clear voice as each of the 37 charges was put to him.

"His position is that none of this occurred," his lawyer, Matthew Ward-Johnson, told the court.

Mr Ward-Johnson said the credibility of the witnesses was a central issue.

"These charges are all largely historic and care must be taken by you not just to take them at face value."

However, Mr Ronayne said the likelihood of six men - four of whom did not know one another - concocting allegations of sexual abuse against Collins was "so remote as to be ridiculous".

A St John spokeswoman said Collins was stood down as soon as the organisation became aware of the allegations against him.

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