Walking Towards Thunder by Peter Fox

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

No matter how dark the clouds, bright the lightning or loud the roar of thunder, don’t be afraid of the trouble ahead, keep walking and face up to it. Eventually the storm will pass, and you will emerge in the sun (269).

I suppose it is normal to be sceptical about a book like this, given its publication so close to that of Louise Milligan’s Cardinal.  I hope that is so. Normal or not, the scepticism arises. I wondered why a police officer as senior as Peter Fox would place himself in a position from which he could never hope to emerge unscathed. Even a rookie school teacher knows not to upset the school principal. My scepticism was largely diminished when I had read a few chapters of Peter Fox’s book. These present a whole new re-definition of courage or, thinking of Tennyson, perhaps an old one not seen for a century or more. Hamlet has plenty who agree with his “… conscience doth make cowards of us all” but not if you’re Peter Fox, whose steely determination had no place for cowardice.

I had not heard of this ex-Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox prior to my present read. The prologue, that begins the complete story as detailed by Fox, makes it very clear that this senior policeman knew exactly the firestorm he would set when he stood up for the abused victims he had known. Perhaps foolishly, in the light of knowledge after the event, Fox welcomed the Cunneen inquiry as a spotlight on to the nefarious activities of the senior members of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. But the inquiry was never to be about criminals. It was more a “Will someone not rid me of this troublesome priest?” moment. The terms of that Inquiry were just as Fox described them – narrow and never likely to do other than destroy him.

The Inquiry’s task can be read by anyone:

The Special Commission of Inquiry investigated (1) the circumstances in which Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox was asked to cease investigating relevant matters and whether it was appropriate to do so; and (2) whether, and the extent to which, officials of the Catholic Church facilitated, assisted, or co-operated with, Police investigations of relevant matters, including whether any investigation has been hindered or obstructed by, amongst other things, the failure to report alleged criminal offences, the discouraging of witnesses to come forward, the alerting of alleged offenders to possible police actions, or the destruction of evidence (Details from Special Commission of Inquiry into Matters Relating to the Police Investigation of certain Child Sexual Abuse Allegations in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle Website

http://www.dpc.nsw.gov.au/announcements/scoi_child_sexual_abuse_allegations_in_the_hunter_region).

Even a biased reader will see only one interpretation – an ambush determined to destroy a troublesome member of the force.  I quote a shattered human being when Fox reports “the Cunneen Inquiry’s final report tore me to shreds as an unreliable and discredited witness. I felt sick” (xiv).

Unusually early in a review, I reached a conclusion that Detective Chief Inspector Fox (retired) is the good cop who took on the behemoth and lost. Though he down-plays his writing credentials, Fox is an expert in writing reports. Even so, it was considered a useful activity to watch whether his writing style varied over 300+ pages. The flow of his sentences, his feelings as stories of horror are related to him, his consistency in his employment of verbs, the impartiality with which he made judgments, and his free acceptance of whatever a child abuse victim decided he/she would like to see done with his/her complaint, all proclaimed innocence. Other pointers of genuine-ness or otherwise are the actions of the people around him. The support he received from family and close friends set against the actions of his colleagues who chose to steer clear of him or carry reports to those senior officers they thought could boost their careers, made not only interesting reading but convinced me even more of his honesty and gentleness.

While the book upset me as no other, I urge my readers to not ignore it. It is the tale of a never-deluded man who took on the all-powerful members of our world, reduced them to unworthiness, while giving a voice to those hereto forced to remain silent. A powerful book told, in complete innocence of how much he has achieved, by an unsung hero just doing his job.

Walking Towards Thunder

(2019)

By Peter Fox

Hachette

ISBN: 978-0-7336-4284-5

$34.99; 336pp

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