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Staff knew of allegations against teacher, commission told

A TOOWOOMBA primary school, its former principal and staff members have been thrust into the national spotlight over what they knew about child sexual abuse allegations at the school in 2007.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse opened on Monday in Brisbane.

Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness told the court a former teacher at the Catholic primary school Gerard Vincent Byrnes had been convicted of 44 child sex offences after allegations surfaced in 2007.

Ms Furness said Byrnes' offending at the school, which cannot be named, occurred between January 2007 and November 2008 and involved 13 girls aged between eight and 10-years of age.

She told the commission 10 offences included digital vaginal and anal rape.

Byrnes was convicted in 2010 and is currently serving a 10 year jail sentence.

Ms Furness said more than 10 witnesses will be called to give evidence at the commission including the school's former principal Terence Michael Hayes, former Toowoomba Bishop William Morris and three of the victim's parents.

The commission heard that as of September 10, 2007, at least three people at the school, including Mr Hayes, were aware of the allegations levelled against Byrnes by at least two parents - some 14 months before police were alerted to the allegations.

Ms Furness said after an initial investigation the matter was not referred to police and no recourse taken against Byrnes.

The commission was told Byrnes resigned on June 27, 2008, as a full-time teacher at the primary school.

He was then re-hired the following month as a casual teacher. The request for Byrnes to be re-hired came from the former principal Mr Hayes.

The man who signed off on the appointment was not told of the two previous complaints made against Byrnes.

Ms Furness told the commission it was during this period as a relief teacher at the primary school that three of the 33 charges Byrnes was convicted of took place.

The commission heard while Byrnes was teaching a class in November, 2008, he put his hand down a girl's pants and touched her chest.

She told her parents who went to police the following day and Byrnes was arrested the same day.

During an interview with police he admitted to offences against six girls and denied offences against four others.

He subsequently pleaded guilty to charges against the 10 girls outlined in his initial interview as well as a further three.

The commission will hear from three of the victim's parents this afternoon.
 

Topics:  catholic education catholic school editors picks royal commission into child sexual abuse sexual abuse


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