Catholic officer had concerns about principal's approach

A SENIOR education officer at the Catholic Education Office in Toowoomba expressed reservations at how a principal was dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse at his school.

Principal Terence Michael Hayes was in charge at the Toowoomba primary school when allegations against veteran teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes first surfaced.

Education Officer Christopher Fry outlined in a statement tendered to the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Thursday his recollections about a phone conversation in 2007.

The phone conversation between the two occurred after child victim KH claimed Byrnes had touched her inappropriately on her chest and placed his hands up her skirt.

Mr Fry said in his statement Mr Hayes' version of events changed several times over a period of three days, shortly before a letter was sent to Byrnes outlining the allegations

"My impression of Mr Hayes' handling of the matter was that he was struggling with the information received from the student and her parent and the appropriate response," he said.

"This is the impression I formed from engaging with him during phone conversations.

"He didn't appear confident about what he was dealing with.

"I formed this impression due to the changing of the information he told to me in circumstances where Mr Hayes was usually a very confident principal."

The inquiry continues.
 

Principal suspected teacher was a risk but failed to report

A FORMER Toowoomba primary school principal suspected veteran teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes posed a risk to students but did not report the matter to either his superiors or the police.

Terence Michael Hayes admitted he omitted serious allegations levelled against Byrnes in a letter to his superiors, instead giving the convicted pedophile the benefit of the doubt.

The Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Brisbane also heard explosive evidence which revealed the Catholic Education Office in Toowoomba had sent principals a fact sheet on how to deal with abuse allegations in October 2007.

The fact sheet titled 'Student Protection and Risk Management' outlined the roles and responsibilities principals had when dealing with child sexual abuse allegations.

Barrister Jane Needham, acting for the Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba, said on Wednesday (Feb 19) the fact sheet was clear about a principal's responsibilities.

"Report immediately to the police if the allegation is of suspected sexual abuse, sexual abuse or other harm of a student by an employee," she said.

Have you say on the Royal Commission into child sex abuse here

Principal had three chances to report convicted pedophile

Mr Hayes admitted he had seen and read the fact sheet, but did not believe it applied to the situation at the school.

"Because I believe I was not in the same position," he said.

"I did not reflect. I was not in the same position that I was back in dealing with Byrnes beforehand." (Paraphrase)

Mr Hayes then admitted he simply read the fact sheet and filed it with other fact sheets he kept.

Responding to further questioning from Ms Needham he admitted there was no explanation for failing to take the matter to police as the Catholic Educational Office had instructed principals to do.

Mr Hayes gave evidence on Tuesday that he failed to follow procedures set out in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit distributed to all Catholic schools in the Diocese.

He said he understood any child abuse allegations should be directed to the Toowoomba Catholic Education Office "as first port of call" which flew in the face of procedures set out in the kit.

Earlier on Wednesday, Mr Hayes admitted he chose instead to omit a serious allegations levelled against Byrnes in a letter to his superiors.

Diocese accused of removing "hands down pants" claim 

The commission heard it was Mr Hayes who convened the meeting in 2007 between child victim KH, her father and the school's student protection officer Catherine Long.

During the meeting KH told those present Byrnes had put his hands up her skirt and touched her on the chest.

Mr Hayes denied he asked KH to demonstrate what occurred using her father to act out what Byrnes did to her.

However, in a letter to his superiors in the Catholic Education Office, Mr Hayes admitted he had omitted the most serious of KH's allegations that Byrnes put his hands up his victim's skirt despite admitting they were of a "very serious nature."

Counsel assisting the commission Andrew Naylor suggested failing to disclose the information could entitle the Royal Commission to find Hayes "deliberately withheld'' that information.

"It was grossly incompetent not to pass that information on," Mr Naylor said.

"I accept that," he replied.

Mr Hayes told the commission he had to work within a system whereby he first informed his superiors at the Catholic Education Office rather than police of any sexual abuse, a claim the Catholic Church strongly refuted later in the day.

The hearings continue.


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