Diocese accused of removing "hands down pants" abuse claim
UPDATE: Toowoomba Catholic Diocese management has been accused of deleting claims that a teacher put his hand down a student's pants from a disciplinary letter.
The Royal Commission inquiry into child sex abuse at a Toowoomba school has heard Toowoomba Diocese senior education officer Christopher Fry told the school's principal to remove "hands down the pants" claims from a letter to since-convicted pedophile teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes.
Issues were also raised over the original draft sent by then-principal Terence Hayes, in which allegations Byrnes put his hand up girls' skirts were also omitted.
Mr Hayes attributed the omission to haste rather than any conscious decision, despite the fact notes taken by student protection officer Catherine Long detailing the allegation were in the same office from which he sent the draft email.
The email was sent to Mr Fry for review before a final draft was provided to Byrnes.
"There was no conscious decision to eliminate anything that was said at the parent's meeting," Mr Hayes said.
"It was sloppy, wasn't it? It was less than careful," counsel assisting Andrew Naylor said.
"Less than careful," Mr Hayes admitted.
"I'm not a sloppy operator. I'm a very pedantic operator... I was very focused on making sure that the first thing I did that morning was get that letter to (Catholic Education Office) before the run of the day started.
"And the run of a day doesn't start for a principal when school starts.
"The run of the day starts when people start arriving in the building.
"Knowing that this wouldn't be the end draft, I was more focused on getting it to CEO."
The draft letter did include allegations that Byrnes had put his hand down a student's pants.
Mr Hayes said he was advised by his senior education officer Mr Fry to remove it from the letter notifying Byrne of the claims.
He said was operating under the impression that second-hand information - in this case a conversation between two young girls overheard by a mother and passed on to his deputy principal - "couldn't be acted upon".
"And you understand... the effect of that is to give the benefit of the doubt to Mr Byrnes rather than the child..." he was asked.
"My focus was to follow my system advice," Mr Hayes responded.
"But the effect of removing that particular dot-point from the letter was to minimise the potential harm," counsel assisting Andrew Naylor continued.
"Not of my making. It was advice I believed had come from the CEO," Mr Hayes said.
"You were just doing what you were told by the CEO," Mr Naylor went on.
"Correct," Mr Hayes replied.
"That's what I believed at the time.
"I wasn't trying to minimise anything.
"I'm the middle-manager here."
Mr Hayes said he removed the "hands down the pants" dot-point from the draft, emailed the revised copy to Mr Fry and it was subsequently approved.
The next day (September 7, 2007) Mr Hayes sent the new letter to Byrnes and awaited his response.
It arrived two weeks later on September 20.
Byrnes admitted to giving students lollies, letting boys and girls sit on his knees and talking to a lot of students while on playground duty, but did not concede that he had kissed any young girls under his care.
Mr Hayes spoke at length on the role of a principal within the Catholic Education system, referring to them more as middle-management than school leaders.
"In the Catholic Education system, principals are not autonomous - we are virtually middle-managers," he said.
"So, as per the advice that was given to me, we were constantly told we can never do anything without going to the (Catholic Education) office and getting the advice of our superiors..."
Byrnes is serving 10 years' imprisonment on 44 child sex offences involving 13 girls aged between eight and 10 years of age.
UPDATE: The child sex abuse reporting protocols of the Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba have been brought into question during evidence given by former primary school principal Terence Hayes.
Mr Hayes was principal of the school from 2001 to the end of 2009 and had been a teacher since 1981.
He was responsible for keeping teachers updated on what measures they had to follow when serious allegations of abuse were made against a member of staff.
Former teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes has since been sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment on 44 child sex offences involving 13 girls aged between eight and 10-years of age.
Mr Hayes' testimony has revealed that he himself failed to follow the protocols set out in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit, given to every school in the Toowoomba diocese.
He was questioned about a meeting he had with a student and her father after first receiving reports of Byrnes' sexual misconduct.
During that meeting Mr Hayes and student protection officer Catherine Long asked the student, referred to as KH, to demonstrate what kind of sexual contact Byrnes had made with her, the commission heard.
The meeting was organised in light of allegations Byrnes had "put his hand in my shirt twice and he did it to (unidentifiable child victim) KA... he put his hand around my shoulders and rub(bed) my chest... he kisses KA on the cheek (and) he put(s) his hand up our skirts when I go to the desk with corrections".
"Am I correct in understanding that after KH had described to you the conduct of Mr Byrnes, you asked her to demonstrate what he did using her father portraying him as Mr Byrnes?" he was asked.
"No, that's not correct. Cathy asked the girl to demonstrate," he responded.
Mr Hayes' failure - like deputy principal Megan Wagstaff before him - to fill out the mandatory reporting form set out in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit was also brought into question.
He admitted he had failed to follow the manual's reporting process immediately after first receiving reports of misconduct, but said principals within the diocese all operated under the understanding that Catholic Education Office "was the first port of call".
"Why didn't you apply the procedures in the in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit and document what was said and submit, giving the form required by the procedures, being Mandatory Reporting Form A," he was asked.
"Because CEO is our first port of call," Mr Hayes replied.
"You didn't comply with the procedures, did you?" the line of questioning continued.
"Not with the manual," Mr Hayes admitted.
"But I was complying with the direction that principals had been given."
When asked why a manual would exist if it was not to be complied with, Mr Hayes said he believed he was "working within the system expectations".
"That's a question for my superiors. But we were told by our superiors to 'come to us, we would help you, we are the first port of call, we work together, action clearly had to be taken'," he said.
Mr Hayes said he met with Byrnes the day after the allegations were first made to discuss what action would follow.
He was asked whether he said words "to the effect" that "it's the end of the term, let's hope it will blow over, see you next term".
Mr Hayes strongly refuted the allegation, shaking his head.
"That is wrong. I never said that," he said.
"I don't know whose words they are, I don't know where that's coming from but I absolutely did not say that."
"Because if you had said those words... it would contradict fairly seriously the view that you had already formed that these were serious allegations of sexual abuse," it was suggested.
"As I've said to you, I did not say that," Mr Hayes responded.
The line of questioning moved before recess towards a telephone conversation following the meeting with KH and her father that Mr Hayes had with Toowoomba Diocese senior education officers Christopher Fry and Ian Hunter.
Mr Hayes will return to the stand at 2pm.
Mr Fry and Mr Hunter are next in line to be questioned.
TUESDAY 12.30PM: Flaws in the process of reporting the sexual abuse of children at a Toowoomba school have come under the Royal Commission's spotlight.
Former deputy principal Megan Wagstaff was first in line to take the stand at this morning's hearing.
She told the commission she had failed to follow proper protocol after receiving reports a mother had overheard two children talking about former teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes inappropriately touching students.
The term "hands down the pants" was used in the account provided to Ms Wagstaff on September 7.
The commission heard the parent who reported the conversation by telephone did not initially believe it to be true.
It also heard that the father of the victim referred to as KH had made a similar complaint to then-principal Terence Hayes on the previous day.
Ms Wagstaff testified she had not been told of the complaint at the time.
She said she did not personally believe the "hands down the pants" report to be true, but nonetheless reported it to Mr Hayes in an ad-hoc letter which outlined the claim.
"Regardless of whether I personally believed it or not, I put it in writing to my principal," Ms Wagstaff said.
She also said the school's student protection officer Catherine Long was advised of the complaint.
Ms Wagstaff admitted she did not use the mandatory reporting forms in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit provided to teachers.
The letter did not include the alleged victims' ages, the time of the report, was not signed and was not properly followed-up in accordance to protocol.
The commission's attention then turned to teachers' training and understanding of child protection and reporting protocols.
Ms Wagstaff said she had never read the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit "from cover to cover".
She said staff were given training on the first (pupil free) day of each year in which they learned of any updates or changes to the kit.
They were also given an overview of what actions should follow any reports of sexual abuse.
"Was there any suggestion made to you during those sessions that you'd better go away and familiarise yourself with the kit, because it (was) not possible to convey to you in two hours, especially with a Powerpoint presentation, all the information and procedures which are contained in that kit," Ms Wagstaff was asked.
"Yes," she replied.
When queried whether she did so, Ms Wagstaff replied, "not unless I needed it".
Ms Wagstaff said if faced with a similar circumstance again, with the benefit of hindsight, she would do things differently.
"I'd use that form, I'd use that process," she said.
Former principal Terence Hayes took the stand for just a few minutes before the commission went into recess at 11.30am.
He will return to the stand at noon.
TUESDAY 9AM: Former Toowoomba principal Terence Michael Hayes will take the stand today to explain how a pedophile was allowed to work with children despite allegations of inappropriate conduct.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse is entering its second day in Brisbane as authorities explore the events that led to Gerard Vincent Byrnes' arrest.
He has been convicted of 44 child sex offences involving 13 girls aged between eight and 10 years of age.
He is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The commission was yesterday told the offences ranged from digital vaginal and anal rape as well as numerous cases of touching and fondling.
Also taking the stand in coming days will be the school's assistant principal Megan Wagstaff, deputy chairman of the Non State Schools Accreditation Board of Queensland Professor William Lane and senior education officers Christopher Fry and Ian Hunter.
Former Bishop of the Toowoomba Diocese Rev. William Morris will be the last witness called on to give evidence.
Rev. Morris has previously admitted Catholic Church liability, thereby allowing compensation to be paid to the 13 girls.
Today's Royal Commission sitting will begin at 10am (Brisbane/Toowoomba time).
Stay tuned to this website for regular updates.