Parents made secret recordings of FaCS worker abusing autistic boy

Lennard Michael Downes

Angela Thompson

A magistrate is considering the fate of an Illawarra FaCs carer accused of assaulting a mute autistic boy, after the child’s parents took the extraordinary step of planting a recording device in their son’s bag in a bid to explain his bruises. 

In distressing audio recordings played to Wollongong Local Court on Wednesday, Lennard Michael Downes is heard calling the boy a "f---ing c---" and threatening to hit him if he doesn’t eat.

The recordings were made during what the court heard was a challenging two days for Downes and another worker tasked with the boy’s around-the-clock respite care, at a government-run Illawarra home in November 2016. 

Downes, 35, admits the voice in the tapes is his and has pleaded guilty to two counts of intimidation.

But he denies a bruising mark to the boy’s face was the result of force feeding, or that background noises in the recording - described in court documents as slapping, banging and hitting sounds - are evidence that the abuse turned physical.

Under cross examination by prosecutor Robert Taylor on Wednesday, Downes proposed innocent explanations for the noises.

“You say, ‘eat … eat … eat what’s in your f---ing mouth’, then there’s a very loud noise that occurs,” Mr Taylor said.  

“To me that sounds like me getting up from the table,” Downes replied. 

“You don’t agree with me that it sounded like a slapping noise? 

“I don’t agree,” Downes said, adding that a later noise “could have been a bowl on the table [or] me pushing a chair out”, as he had gotten up multiple times to get a cloth to wipe the boy’s face.

Elsewhere in the recordings, Downes is heard telling the boy to “swallow what’s in your mouth or I’ll break your neck” and warning, “don’t f---ing cry or I’ll give you something to cry about”. 

He denied he ever acted on the threats.

“I don’t know what I was suggesting, I was at my wit’s end,” he said. 

He told the court he had had only five hours’ sleep in between shifts spent caring for the boy, and had come to work on the second day only because FaCS “had absolutely no one else to do it”. He said he had “a lot of other things going on in my personal life” at the time, and should not have been at work.

“I’m not using it as an excuse,” he said. 

“My frustrations were elevated and I spoke to [the boy] appallingly and there’s no excuse for that … I’m ashamed of what I said.”  

A co-worker who cared for the boy in the hours between Downes’ shifts described the child “jumping, screaming, running into the kitchen into the cutlery drawer”. She told police that the boy was still awake at 2.30am – “screaming, tapping, trying to get out” and was at times “lying in bed, hitting himself in his face with his hand” and that by shift’s end she was “ a little bit at her wit’s end”. 

Both Downes and his co-worker spoke of unsafe aspects of the house, including access to a shared laundry, an easily-opened front door and unsecured kitchen utensils. Both carers said they had concerns the house was ill-suited to the boy, leaving him vulnerable to injury or escape. 

Downes later told police the boy “had some kind of bruising on him” every time he saw him.

He admitted he lied to police when he initially denied verbally abusing the boy, due to “fear about what [the truth] might say about me as a person”. 

Magistrate Susan McGowan is expected to hand down her decision on January 31.