Broke, homeless: Disgraced TV star Robert Hughes’ new life

 

BEFORE his glittering world came crashing down, actor Robert Hughes enjoyed a charmed life and the fruits of his considerable success as a performer.

Now he is about to emerge from prison, broke, possibly homeless, a social and professional pariah.

He also faces a potential stripping of his British citizenship and a potential ban from the UK, where he was spending most of his time before being arrested, extradited and locked up as a paedophile.

A TV, film and theatre actor with an extensive portfolio of performance credits, he was enjoying life after a stellar 30 year career when the storm clouds gathered to usher in his secret and sinister past.

At the time, a decade ago in 2010, Hughes was dividing himself between Singapore and New York.

His wife, the acclaimed actor agent Robyn Gardiner, represented the cream of the A-list stars like Cate Blanchett, Anthony LaPaglia and Rose Byrne who were not just clients but friends.

Her successful business was based in Singapore, where the government had paid her company millions to help establish the Asian island nation as an international movie-making hub.

The couple owned a house in London, where their daughter Jessica lived with her young family.

Then aged in his early 60s, Hughes was still making an income from voiceovers, and commuting between the couple's Singapore townhouse.

Robert Hughes arrives at the Downing Centre with his wife Robyn Gardiner during his trial.
Robert Hughes arrives at the Downing Centre with his wife Robyn Gardiner during his trial.


But years before the #MeToo movement, actress Sarah Monahan bravely revealed on TV in 2010 what Hughes had done to her

The sex abuse had taken place in the 1980s and 1990s when they played architect Martin Kelly and his youngest daughter Jenny on the set of sitcom Hey Dad!

Monahan had first auditioned for the role at the age of six.

Within three years of Monahan's revelations, by May 2014, Robyn Gardiner's and Robert Hughes' lives were in tatters.

He was a convicted paedophile facing at least six years in prison, her theatrical empire collapsed into bankruptcy, owing $28m.

Ms Gardiner had not been there for her husband's latest - although not final - humiliation of a scathing sentencing judgment, having withdrawn back to England.

But as Hughes' lawyer Greg Walsh said, just eight days after the disgraced actor was handcuffed and taken off down to the cells and off to Goulburn prison, "they are broke".

"She and Robert are ruined, they don't have any assets. They have nothing," he said.

Now as Hughes' minimum sentence draws to a close in April and he is hopeful of winning parole, one has to wonder - what kind of life can he expect on the outside?

It is unclear whether he still has the support of his wife and their daughter Jessica, so staunch during most of his trial in their belief of his innocence.

He has no money and no possibility of employment in an industry which has now wiped its hands of him.

While he is on parole, which will be until January 2025, he will be required to remain in Australia to comply with his conditions, and probably wear a satellite-tracking anklet.

His job prospects after prison could include typical prison employment, such as cleaning duck carcasses at a poultry company, laundering, sheet metal fabrication, packing airline headsets.

It is unlikely, however, that Hughes has undergone any employment behind bars, let alone got a forklift licence.

Placed in protection because of his notoriety, Hughes endured the further humiliation of having fellow inmates pelt him with milk cartons of their own urine and faeces at the actor.

Robert Hughes with wife Robyn Gardiner arriving at court during his trial.
Robert Hughes with wife Robyn Gardiner arriving at court during his trial.

A special thick-wire screen dubbed by prison lags "the Hey Dad! wall", went up after inmates' bombardment of Hughes as a "jail welcome" became a ritual and he was daily "covered head to toe in human waste".

This occurred while Hughes and other child sex offenders were transferred between prison yards on Goulburn's notorious "Circle" of giant caged pens.

On the first occasion, Hughes reportedly went to a part of the jail and cried, then later called his wife Robyn Gardiner and sobbed, "I can't do it … This place is hell. You have to get me out."

Prison officers regarded Hughes as "a big girl".

He was placed in a high security "yellow" protection yard with other paedophiles, and therefore unlikely to have the flexibility to study or work.

Apart from having no job or any funds, Hughes may face a ban from re-entering the UK where he was spending much of his time before his 2012 arrest.

Hughes is a dual citizen of Britain and Australia.

However, while he was incarcerated, in 2016 the then UK Home Secretary (Theresa May) introduced tough new measures for persons accused of serious crimes.

In 2016, May foreshadowed an amplification of her powers that allow serious criminals with dual nationality to have their British citizenship withdrawn.

Since 2000, 37 people of varying nationalities have had their British citizenship revoked, including Russian, Somali, Afghan, Pakistani, Sudanese, Vietnamese and Australian.

They were mostly terrorists, but the scope of undesirable crimes has since moved on to include convicted mobsters or organised crime figures and sex offenders.

One specific case cited was the Rotherham child sexual abuse gang whose victims, their trial court heard, "suffered immense psychological harm".

Among the damaged young women "one now only undressed in the dark, another hated her own body … others had eating disorders, depression and were unable to form stable adult relationships".

Anyone who sat through or read Robert Hughes' trial judgment, or heard the testimony of his victims will find these sad repercussions familiar.

News.com.au has inquired via the British High Commission in Australia of the current Home Secretary Priti Patel to see is Ms Patel intends to enforce Ms May's proposals, or to ban Hughes from re-entering the UK on his British passport.

Hughes was at his and Ms Gardiner's luxury London apartment at Bryanston Square in August 2012 when London police knocked on the door and arrested him.

It was the culmination of a two-year investigation by the NSW Police Sex Crimes Squad.

Taken to Belgravia Police Station, Hughes spent a night in a Wandsworth Prison cell, still insisting on his innocence.

 

Undated supplied photo made available Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, of actor Robert Hughes, 63, (front row, left) with the cast of Hey Dad. Hughes has reportedly been arrested in London over allegations of historic sexual and indecent assaults against five girls in Sydney. (AAP Image/Supplied) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Undated supplied photo made available Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, of actor Robert Hughes, 63, (front row, left) with the cast of Hey Dad. Hughes has reportedly been arrested in London over allegations of historic sexual and indecent assaults against five girls in Sydney. (AAP Image/Supplied) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY SUPPLIED

 

Strike Force Ruskin's commander Detective Inspector John Kerlatec said after the arrest, "sexual assault leaves enormous scars on people".

Monahan's bombshell on Channel 9's A Current Affair had been corroborated by fellow cast members, Ben Oxenbould and Simone Buchanan.

ACA reporter Ben McCormack (who later pleaded guilty to child pornography charges) famously stopped Hughes at a Singapore traffic light and asked him about the allegations.

Hughes replied he was "absolutely totally shocked" and "I deny, absolutely deny, everything".

"I'm absolutely puzzled as to why this is being said now. Everything now is in the hands of defamation lawyers," he said.

NSW police formed Strike Force Ruskin and in 2011, a relative of Hughes claimed she, too, had been molested.

Hughes' daughter Jessica rejected the allegations, saying she had "no doubt that the allegations against my father are untrue".

"One has to question the motives of people reportedly paid to give interviews now, having never spoken before," she said at the time.

Police had yet to interview Hughes, but it was later revealed they had done so way back in 1985 about claims of sexual abuse which Hughes flatly dismissed.

It also emerged that in 1994 stories about Robert Hughes sexual advances to a child TV star were known among the Hey Dad! cast.

Casting agent Liz Mullinar, herself a victim of sexual abuse as a child, had been brought in to recast Hughes' character in the wake of the allegations.

Mullinar claimed she approached Robyn Gardiner to tell her - the agent had been friends with both Gardiner and Hughes - but that Gardiner refused to believe her, and the friendship foundered.

Gardiner and Jessica Hughes would later give evidence in Hughes' defence at his trial.

Gardiner was a constant and loyal presence during the six-week trial, braving the cameras to accompany her husband into court.

On April 7, 2014, a jury found Robert Lindsay Hughes, 65, guilty of two counts of sexual assault, seven counts of indecent assault and one count of committing an act of indecency.

As the jury delivered its verdict, Hughes, ever the actor, grabbed the side of the dock and yelled out, "I am innocent."

Gardiner remained expressionless, staring ahead.

At his sentencing before a packed courtroom the following month, Gardiner was no longer there.

Lawyer Greg Walsh insisted that she was absent by mutual consent with the prisoner and in anticipation of the heavy media presence.

During his lengthy judgment, Judge Peter Zahra noted Hughes had not expressed remorse.

Indeed as His Honour detailed the insidious nature of the actor's offending continuum against little girls, Hughes sat in the dock, aloof, his head high as if in contempt.

Judge Zahra described the once popular sitcom actor as a sexual predator who systematically exploited young girls and relied on his position to ensure his victims' compliance and silence.

"His conduct continued over 20 years … (even) after he was questioned by police in 1986, it continued," Judge Zahra said.

"The offender took advantage of when he was with victims in social settings in his home or at victims' homes.

"The offender's conduct was persistent and he exploited the naivety and youth of the children involved."

The judge said Hughes had taken advantage of his daughter Jessica's relationship with female children.

As one of the victims said, the assaults on her were cunning and relentless, taking place when Robyn Gardiner or Jessica Hughes or another adult were absent.

Hughes' ploys included exposing his genitals to girls around the pool, making them swim between his legs or forcing one to lie on his erect penis as he administered ear drops.

Hughes was jailed for a maximum of 10 years and nine months with a non-parole period of six years for sexually abusing four young girls over a 20-year period.

Days after his sentencing, Robyn Gardiner's theatrical empire collapsed.

Based in Singapore, where it had relocated to in 2005, the Robyn Gardiner Management group of companies crashed owing more than $28 million.

Declared bankrupt in Singapore, Gardiner had to sell RGM Artists, but stayed on as a paid consultant.

What she had built up from 1982, snapping up fresh NIDA graduate Cate Blanchett in 1992 and building a stable of 300 actors, artists and writers, was turned to dust.

Between 2005 and 2011 Gardiner and her RGM CFO Devesh Chetty had received $21m from the Singaporean Media Development Agency (MDA) to attract artistic investment.

MDA seeded $5m to 20th Century Fox (later Fox International Pictures) and $10m to Sony Pictures Entertainment through two agreements with RGM.

The deals to bring the movie business to Singapore and make it "a vibrant global media city" never materialised.

RGM made some commercial and critical failures including Point Blank 2, panned by the critics and only just breaking even at the box office.

When the MDA wanted its money back, Chetty cooked the books, using the money to pay off loans and make it appear the funds were still in RGM's accounts.

By April 2012, MDA sued to recover $21m from RGM Group.

There were no suggestions that Gardiner had been involved in the company fraud while Chetty, who had also forged documents, eventually served 22 weeks in jail.

RGM Artist Group, which was still profitable, was sold to Australian media executives Hugh Marks and Grant Blackley in 2013.

News.com.au requested information Corrective Services NSW about Robert Hughes' preparation for release from prison, in particular his future accommodation, but the department declined to comment.

Hughes could be forced to live at the Long Bay halfway house for released offenders where child killer and paedophile Michael Guider moved into after his release last September.

The NSW State Parole Authority, which adjourned Hughes' parole hearing earlier this month until March 12, could delay releasing the convicted child abuser for "not addressing his offending behaviour".

That means, in part, admitting his guilt.

Hughes' NSW Court of Appeal and High Court appeals against his conviction were dismissed.

At his sentencing, trial Judge Zahra said of Hughes: "He lacks insight into his offending and he is unlikely to access treatment programs."

Robert Hughes will return to the outside world soon enough, ostracised by his former artistic community, his body of performance work a mockery of the craft.

His only legacy might be the Hey Dad! wall down at Goulburn jail where, in perpetuity, the prison system's most reviled, child sex offenders, can escape the appraisal of their peers.

Correctives Services NSW publish a guide called Getting Out for all inmates with tips on how to survive post release.


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