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Suicide judge's secret sex life is revealed

When David Yeldham, one of Australia's most respected former judges, committed suicide last month the country was shocked. Yesterday, after weeks of rumours, some of the answers fell into place when a royal commission revealed he had confessed, hours before he died, to a secret life of paying men for sex in Sydney's public lavatories.

It was the latest in a litany of disclosures to come before the commission, which has spent two years investigating corruption in the New South Wales police force. The judge's name first came up last October, when Franca Arena, an MP in the state's parliament, asked if he had received "preferential treatment" during the commission's investigation of paedophilia.

Mr Yeldham, 67, was a state Supreme Court judge for 16 years before retiring in 1990. He was a QC, married with three children and lived in one of Sydney's most exclusive neighbourhoods. He publicly denied being a paedophile and four days later gassed himself in his car outside his home. Yesterday, it emerged that he had been secretly interviewed by the royal commission twice in those four days. The commission released edited transcripts.

"I'm bisexual, let's face it," Mr Yeldham said on 31 October. "I've got a wife and three children and four grandchildren and I love young children and I'm involved in children's charities. But I've never ever, nor would I ever, have any sexual conduct with anyone who is under 18. I mean, I abhor paedophilia."

Police apprehended Yeldham at least twice after complaints were made about his behaviour in lavatories at two railway stations. In December 1988 he was found in a cubicle with another man. In 1990, after he had retired, he allegedly masturbated on a lavatory stairway at another station. No charges were ever laid against him. His case was handled by the Special Branch, which appears to have let him off the hook.

The questions now being asked about the affair are: why was his flagrant public sexual conduct taken on by the Special Branch, whose role is usually confined to cases involving security and extremist political activity? Did police not charge him because they expected to extract favours from him in judgments from the bench? How much did his fellow judges know of his secret life? And, crucially, how independent is the judiciary?

In his interviews, Mr Yeldham admitted that he always paid money to men to have sex with him at stations. He maintained that he "could tell by looking" if one of his "encounters" was under 18.

On 4 November he said: "I am, of course, deeply ashamed." But he regarded his offences as "relatively minor".

The commission's interviewer asked him: "In terms of your own performance on the bench judicially, did it worry you that these people might blackmail you?" "Yes," he said. "Well, how did you cope with that fear of blackmail?" "I think I just ... well I, I didn't think too much about it, quite frankly."

Hours after this interview, the former judge returned home and killed himself.