Witnesses pass buck in child sex abuse inquiry
FORMER Catholic school principal Terence Hayes has defended his decision not to notify police of abuse claims against pedophile teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes.
Legal submissions to the royal commission into child sexual abuse have revealed a great deal of buck-passing as key witnesses argue their innocence.
Byrnes is serving 10 years' imprisonment for 44 child sex offences involving 13 girls aged between eight and 10 years old at a Toowoomba school.
"Whilst Mr Hayes accepts responsibilities for his own failures to comply with (or indeed consult) the student protection kit, there is a systemic issue here ... he did not receive the advice which he ought to have been given - in particular to comply with the student protection kit," Mr Hayes' submission stated.
The kit in question was intended to be the go-to guide for teachers dealing with a range of matters, including abuse by a teacher.
It was explicit in its direction that police should be notified of claims of sexual abuse.
Mr Hayes' lawyer Andrew Knott argued the directive was contrary to an institutional mantra that the Catholic Education Office was always "the first point of call".
"It is respectfully submitted that the clear effect of Mr Hayes' evidence was that the purpose of the CEO being the 'first port of call' was to obtain assistance in discharging his responsibilities (including those under the kit)," he contended.
The claims were slammed by counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness and Andrew Naylor.
"The protection of children should be the guiding principle in all actions taken in a school setting when a disclosure is made," they stated.
"Those disclosures should not be minimised as appears to have happened in this case, but instead each taken seriously until a proper investigation takes place and concludes otherwise."
Toowoomba Catholic Education Office senior education officer Ian Hunter and student protection officer Catherine Long also made submissions to the commission.
Mr Hunter's lawyer argued it was never Mr Hunter's duty to report the now-confirmed abuse to police, as he was not the student protection officer posted to the school in question.
"Mr (Christopher) Fry was the student protection officer for the school," the submission stated.
"In that role, Mr Fry was the person who was responsible at the relevant time for ensuring compliance with student protection policies and procedures at the school."
Christopher Fry did not make a submission.
The line of reasoning related to a telephone conversation between Mr Hayes, Mr Hunter and Mr Fry in which allegations of Byrnes' misconduct were made.
Neither Mr Hunter nor Mr Fry passed on the accusations to TCEO assistant director Margaret Hendriks - the person responsible for Byrnes' rehiring as a relief teacher in 2008.
Three of the 33 counts of indecent treatment for which Byrnes was ultimately convicted took place during this period.
Mr Hayes also failed to notify Ms Hendriks of the accusations upon Byrnes' application to again take up work.
According to his submission, Mr Hayes did not mention the allegations because he believed Mr Hunter and Mr Fry would have already done so "on the basis that it was a common understanding of the principals of the diocese that when you spoke to your senior education officers, they would refer anything to her".
"... Mr Hayes's explanation of his having 'failed to voice any objection to the reappointment' ought to be qualified by reference to the basis on which he did so - namely that it was reasonable for him to assume that Ms Hendriks knew the information in question," the submission stated.
Catherine Long was the student protection officer who was present at a meeting with Mr Hayes, a child victim and her father, when allegations Byrnes had put his hands up the girl's skirt and inside her shirt were made.
Ms Long's submission stated she did not suspect sexual abuse at the time.
It also argued she thought her school principal should have been the one to report the claims.
"... Mrs Long genuinely believed that the principal, who by his own evidence is a pedantic person by nature, would follow through and in consultation with the student protection officer(s) determine the appropriate action to be taken."
It is still not known when the findings will be released.