Police investigate alleged group attack on 12yo autistic boy

Submitted by bobb on Fri, 18/3/2022 - 11:48
mother looking into camera

Giselle Wakatama

Nicole Powell fought back tears when describing what happened to her now "broken" boy.

Key points:

  • Twelve-year-old Damien says he's too frightened to go out alone
  • Police say they are investigating and reviewing CCTV footage
  • Damien's mum says a pair of "amazing" tradesmen came to her son's aid

The emotional trigger was a three-word text message she received from her son on February 17 this year.

The message, sent by sent by her 12-year-old autistic son Damien, simply read: "I've been bashed".

Those words triggered an avalanche of heartache and sparked a chain of events that ended with a police investigation.

A boy with bruised face lying down.

Damien told police he was attacked by up to three teenagers and filmed.(Supplied: Nicole Powell)

Ms Powell gave permission for the ABC to name her son and share images of his injuries. 

She said she had wanted to give her son more independence and allowed him to go to Newcastle's Nobbys Beach alone.

Damien loves riding his bike and scooter, fishing and camping but on this day it was hot and he wanted to go for a swim.

He had strict instructions to swim and then come straight home.

Ms Powell said Damien was on his way home when he was allegedly chased, attacked and filmed by a group of teenagers.

The alleged assault happened in broad daylight in front of a harbourside apartment block along Newcastle's busy Honeysuckle restaurant strip.

"I got this text message from him that said 'I have been bashed' and it just took me at least two or three minutes to get it through my head, like it was a dream," Ms Powell said.

"So I tried ringing him and ringing him and he wouldn't answer, I don't know where he is, so I got in the car and I drove around in circles, because I didn't know where to go."

Ms Powell found Damien during her search and said she was shocked by what she saw.

Boy with facial bruising and cut lip.

Damien was left with black eyes and a fat lip following the alleged attack.(Supplied: Nicole Powell)

"I just yelled out to him, I had to get him and when I pulled over to the side of the road he just had black eyes and his lip was swollen and cut.

"I just didn't know what to say and I was in shock and I got out of the car and just hugged him."

Tradies praised

Ms Powell said her son's condition could have been worse if two nearby tradesmen had not intervened.

"I have told them how grateful I was that they stopped it, one of the tradies actually walked Damien to the train station to make sure he got home OK, so these two guys were amazing."

Advocacy Law Alliance chief executive Mark Grierson also praised the two men.

"It is fortunate in this case that a group of tradies actually intervened and were able to stop the assault of this young man," he said.

"People need to stand up for people with disabilities and just because there is quirky or out of the norm behaviour, it doesn't mean there is something really wrong with a person."

Mr Grierson said everyone deserved the right to venture out safely.

"People with autism sometimes have slightly out of the norm behaviours and it sounds like in this case it may have elicited being picked on by other people."

White and green apartment block with a footpath and green lawn out the front. 

The alleged attack happened in front of a harbourside apartment block.(ABC News: Giselle Wakatama)

Disability inclusion

Damien's alleged attack happened five days before the City of Newcastle updated its Disability Inclusion Action Plan.

The plan aims to help councillors establish strategies to create an inclusive community for all people who live, visit and work in Newcastle.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the plan was warranted, with more than one in six residents in Newcastle having a disability, equating to more than 30,000 people.  

Two people walking along the promenade in Newcastle with the ocean in the background.

The City of Newcastle revised its Disability Action Plan last month.(ABC Newcastle: Anthony Scully)

Damien is one of those people and his mum said the alleged attack must be thoroughly investigated.

"I want him to know there has got to be justice, there's got to be answers for him or you know he is not going to end up anywhere he is just going to be a little boy broken," Ms Powell said.

An initial police report was made three weeks ago, and Damien made a formal statement to police this week.

A boy wearing a hoodie hugs a kitten.

Damien's mum Nicole Powell says he was gaining confidence before the alleged attack.(Supplied: Nicole Powell)

The ABC has been told CCTV vision has been seized from various locations along the harbourfront and was being reviewed by police.

Police declined a request for an interview but said investigators were making further enquiries.

from https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-03-17/police-investigate-an-alleged-attack-on-12yo-autistic-boy/100913520