Poor training and supervision and ignorance of the psychological needs of children contributed to abuse in their children’s homes, the Salvation Army says.

The Salvation Army has confessed that “evil people” perpetrated sex abuse in its homes because of poor regulation and appalling ignorance of the psychological needs of children.

Major Peter Farthing told a hearing of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Friday that homes in the 1960s and ’70s would have lacked written policies and were often run by poorly trained managers.

Over two weeks the commission has heard of horrendous physical and sexual abuse in four homes – the Endeavour Training Farm at Riverview and the Alkira Home for Boys at Indooroopilly, both in Queensland; and in NSW the Bexley home in south Sydney and Gill Memorial Home, Goulburn.

Mr Farthing who is co-ordinating the Salvation Army’s response to the royal commission also said “some perpetrators were plain evil people … and the worst offenders were the worst liars”, who were believed over children, employees or lesser ranking officers.

“I put these ideas not to excuse our horrible failures but to seek understanding so that such damage can be avoided,” he said.

Homes were regimented and there was “never enough love”, but the level of corporal punishment depended on the manager, he said.

There were some managers who “still may have been harsh and regimented but they were decent and wanted some good for their boys”.

Mr Farthing was questioned on the army’s recruitment policies and handling of five officers about whom there had been complaints.

Among the five is Lawrence Wilson who was dismissed from the army in 1961 but allowed to re-enter in 1966, even though his former employer, the NSW Department of Child Welfare, was recommending he not be allowed to work with boys because of his abusive behaviour.

Mr Farthing said allowing Wilson to re-enter was the worst decision the Salvation Army Eastern Territory ever made.

He described Wilson as the Salvation Army’s most serious offender and said they had received a very large number of complaints from victims, and there were “probably more out there who have not been in touch with us yet”.

He also said the army was provided with information by one officer that his father had learnt Wilson was interfering with a boy, or boys, in 1964 or 1965.

He told the commission that the officer probably reported it to the divisional commander because it would have been policy to do so, even if it was a rumour but there was no record on file of the report.

He also said it was not policy in the ’60s and may still not be policy to check with former employers of those wishing to join the army.

Within a few years of his re-acceptance, Wilson went became manager of Gill Memorial Home for Boys in Goulburn where he allegedly sexually and physically abused boys. He also worked at Alkira and Bexley.

He died in 2008 a few days after the army reported fresh allegations about him to NSW police.

Mr Farthing said he had only recently become aware Wilson was under suspicion of being involved in a pedophile ring.

He said Wilson’s predecessor at the Bexley Boys Home had a program where boys went to families and had good experiences with decent people but when Wilson took over he closed it down.

But from what survivors were now telling him “it seems like he had these contacts and he lent these boys out at the weekends”.