Principal slammed for failing to report student sex abuse
A ROYAL Commission has found Toowoomba Catholic primary school principal Terence Hayes failed to report serious child sex abuse allegations against one of his staff members to police.
Pedophile teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes was in 2010 sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after pleading guilty to 44 child sexual abuse offences against 13 girls who were then aged between eight and 10 years.
Byrnes was the girls' teacher at the time of the offences.
He was also one of the school's two student protection contacts.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse investigated the response of Mr Hayes, his fellow school staff members and Toowoomba Catholic Education officers to allegations against Byrnes of child sexual abuse made by parents and students in 2007.
In findings published yesterday, it said the principal did not comply with procedures in the school's student protection kit when he failed to report to police allegations made during a telephone conversation on September 3, 2007, and a meeting on September 6, 2007.
The commissioners also found that Mr Hayes sought to avoid responsibility for reporting the allegations to police by maintaining that responsibility lay with the Toowoomba Catholic Education Office.
Mr Hayes was found to have conveyed some allegations of inappropriate conduct to senior education officers Christopher Fry and Ian Hunter, but did not include the most serious allegation that Byrnes had put his hand up the skirts of students.
However, the details which were passed on to Mr Fry and Mr Hunter, the commission found, should have prompted them to report the matter to police, which they did not do.
The commissioners found that upon receiving allegations against Byrnes, the steps taken to monitor his conduct were inadequate and inappropriate and Mr Hayes should not have allowed Byrnes to continue in the role of student protection contact.
Byrnes retired from his teaching role in June, 2008, but, in July that year, he was engaged as a relief teacher at the school.
Mr Hayes was found to have sought and enabled the re-appointment of Byrnes despite knowing of the sexual abuse allegations levelled against him.
Neither Mr Fry nor Mr Hunter reported the allegations to Toowoomba Catholic Education Office assistant director Margaret Hendriks who ultimately approved Byrnes to return as a relief teacher.
Between July 30 and November 14, 2008, Byrnes performed duties as a relief teacher at the school on at least 15 separate days.
Three of the 33 counts of indecent treatment for which he was ultimately convicted occurred during that period.
Byrnes was arrested at school in November, 2008, after a girl complained to her mother that Byrnes had put his hands down her pants.
It was reported to police who made the arrest the same day.
The response of the Toowoomba Diocese, including then Bishop William Morris and Toowoomba Catholic Education Office director John Borserio, was also examined.
It found Mr Borserio became aware on or about December 2, 2008, that in September, 2007, Mr Hayes had spoken with Mr Fry and told him that he had received information from a parent of a student suggesting Byrnes may have sexually abused the student.
On February 1, 2009, Bishop Morris received a phone call from a parent of a child at the school informing him that in September, 2007, Mr Hayes had received a complaint of sexual abuse by Byrnes.
Bishop Morris then spoke to Mr Borserio who confirmed the information.
Bishop Morris retained a law firm to investigate what had occurred and the circumstances in which information regarding sexual abuse had not been reported.
He also wanted to know why the school's student protection policies and procedures had not been complied with.
The law firm recommended that notices be issued to Mr Hayes, Mr Fry and Mr Hunter to show cause as to why they should not be disciplined for their respective failures in not properly assessing and reporting the allegations of child sexual abuse received in September, 2007.
On December 10, 2009, Bishop Morris sacked Mr Hayes, Mr Fry and Mr Hunter.
Commissioners found Bishop Morris's actions, which also included appointing an independent mediator for the purpose of assessing reparations, were appropriate.
He also established a Child Abuse Response Team to advise on improvements to child protection.
To date, more than $2.25 million has been paid in damages, costs and administration fees to nine victims and some family members in relation to Byrnes' offences.
Toowoomba Catholic Education Office director John Borserio yesterday said he welcomed the findings and the important work the Royal Commission had undertaken in hearing the voices of survivors and their families.
"Since 2009, the Diocese of Toowoomba Catholic Education Office has reviewed its policies, procedures and training for student protection, working collaboratively with government authorities and external agencies," Mr Borserio said.
"We continue to review and improve our processes in order to maintain safe environments for our students and we will act on the systemic issues identified in the findings."
Byrnes will be eligible for release from prison on November 17, next year.