The man who could have stopped a pedophile...but didn't

CHRISTOPHER Fry had the power to stop a paedophile…. but he didn't.

It is a decision he says he must now live with for the rest of his life.

Mr Fry, who was tasked with investigating allegations of child sexual abuse at a Toowoomba primary school, said he would have done things differently if he had the opportunity to do so again.

However, he admitted he did not take the initial allegations levelled against veteran teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes seriously.

Byrnes went on to rape and sexually assault 13 girls at the school in 2007 and 2008.

He was subsequently convicted of 44 child sex offences and is currently serving a 10-year jail sentence.

Mr Fry, a former senior eduction officer at the Catholic Education Office in Toowoomba, said on Thursday upon reflection his failure to report the initial allegations made against Byrnes to police was a "grave failing on my behalf."

The initial allegations against Byrnes surfaced in September, 2007, after the school's principal Terence Michael Hayes met with child victim KH, her father and the school's student protection officer Catherine Long.

Following the meeting Mr Hayes telephoned Mr Fry to inform him KH had alleged Byrnes had touched her inappropriately and made her feel uncomfortable after "putting his hand up her skirt."

He was also told about another girl being made to sit on Byrnes' lap in class, lollies being handed out and allegations of kissing a girl on the cheek.

Mr Fry told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Brisbane he believed the initial allegations to be "just gossip" and "gossip can be harmful."

Junior counsel assisting the commission Andrew Naylor asked Mr Fry whether he believed the information he received during the telephone conversation with Mr Hayes amounted to sexual abuse.

Mr Fry agreed the allegations did amount to sexual abuse as outlined in the school's Student Protection and Risk Management kit and agreed the allegations constituted a form of grooming.

Mr Naylor asked Mr Fry why he did not follow procedures set out in the kit when he suspected a child was being harmed and report the matter to police.

"I did not see it as an allegation as such," he said.

"I was trying to put myself in the position that I wanted information which could lead us to a good outcome, the correct outcome.

"If I had my time over, I would have stopped all my other work and I think I would have been very attentive to receiving reports, the written reports, which did not happen."

Justice Jennifer Coate asked Mr Fry, towards the end of his evidence on day four of the commission, whether he had time to reflect on the events which occurred in 2007 and 2008 and the role he played in them

"Well, my reflections your honour, include that I deeply regret the harm, the tragedy and the suffering that students, their parents and their families have suffered," he said.

"I regret that my performance has been found wanting.

"Not that I have sorrow for myself in that sense, but I regret that I did not do better.

"I did not come here to avoid blame or spread the blame.

"I accept that I had failings, but I think those failings were in part contributed to by the environment I was working in."


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