Suicide of sex-row QC shocks Australia

Australian politics were in turmoil yesterday after a former judge committed suicide following allegations in parliament related to an inquiry into paedophiles.

David Yeldham, 67, who formerly sat in the New South Wales Supreme Court, was found dead in his car at his home in the upmarket Sydney suburb of Hunters Hill. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances.

A QC who was married with three children and had four grandchildren, he had been shaken after Franca Arena, a Labor member, made a pointed reference to him in the New South Wales state parliament last week when she attacked a royal commission of inquiry, saying it gave preferential treatment to "prominent people".

Mrs Arena has waged a campaign against paedophilia, claiming that top people in Australia have been spared serious examination during the commission's investigation. She asked in the Legislative Council in Sydney last week: "What about former Supreme Court judge, David Albert Yeldham - was he, or was he not, interviewed?"

She added: "I am not insinuating anything about the character of the former judge by naming him. I am only saying that this is an example of a person who appears to have been given preferential treatment ."

Mr Yeldham instantly defended himself. "I am not a paedophile, I've never been a paedophile and I hate paedophilia," he said. "A terrible mistake must have been made."

Retiring in 1990 after 16 years on the bench, Mr Yeldham had taken up a post as director of the National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Mrs Arena has never produced any evidence to substantiate her insinuations, which sent shockwaves through Australia's political establishment. Even before Mr Yeldham's suicide, MPs from both sides of politics attacked her for abusing parliamentary privilege.

The suicide has brought widespread calls for her to be dismissed. Dressed in black, and speaking in sombre tones, she appeared before the press yesterday and declared: "I have acted according to my conscience."

Mr Yeldham's death has also focused attention on one of Australia's most sensational, lengthy, controversial and most expensive public inquiries. The royal commission, conducted by Mr Justice James Wood, another Supreme Court judge, was opened in 1994 after political pressure forced the then New South Wales government to set up an inquiry into corruption in the state's police.

After exposing shocking corruption among top echelons, the commission turned its attention to alleged police protection of paedophile rackets. But there have been strong attacks on the commission's methods. John Marsden, a prominent lawyer, said at least nine people had committed suicide as a result of the inquiry.

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