Principal had three chances to report convicted pedophile

Former school principal Terence Hayes after a Toowoomba court appearance in 2009.
Former school principal Terence Hayes after a Toowoomba court appearance in 2009. Bev Lacey

FORMER Toowoomba primary school principal Terence Michael Hayes admitted he had three opportunities to report sexual abuse allegations levelled against convicted pedophile Gerard Vincent Byrnes in a letter to his superiors but failed to do so.

Mr Hayes told the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Wednesday he knew the allegations child victim KH made were "extremely serious" but rejected claims he purposely and deliberately omitted them when drafting a letter to his superiors about the allegations.

He admitted the omissions were "grossly incompetent" but not deliberate, despite having access to the detailed notes which student protection officer Catherine Long had taken down during a meeting he called between the two, child victim KH and her parents in 2007.

However, he rejected claims from counsel assisting the commission Andrew Naylor  that he purposely left out the most serious of KH's allegations in the letter to his superiors in order to give Byrnes the benefit of the doubt.

The commission then heard Hayes admit that by omitting the serious allegations from the letter, he gave Byrnes the benefit of the doubt.

"The effect was that I was believing I was working within my system responsibilities," Hayes said.

Mr Naylor then asked Mr Hayes whether he accepted responsibility for the failure to report serious sexual abuse allegations to police.

"The ultimate responsibility falls with the principal," he said.

Mr Naylor then asked whether he accepted responsibility for not reporting the allegations to police.

"Well I believe I was working within the system,"  he said.

Mr Naylor seized on the response to point out that during Mr Hayes' trial in Toowoomba he gave different evidence about who was responsible for reporting allegations to police.

"Did you tell the truth during your trial in the Toowoomba Magistrates Court," Mr Naylor said.

"Yes," Mr Hayes said.

"I put to you that you have told differing evidence to this Royal Commission," Mr Naylor asked.

"I reject that," Mr Hayes said.

The Royal Commission hearings continue.

System fails girls who fell into grip of pedophile teacher

THE repeated failure of a Toowoomba primary school to properly report claims of sexual abuse against young girls has been revealed.

Former principal Terence Hayes spoke of a bureaucratic edict which obliged staff to alert the Catholic Diocese to accusations of rape and abuse rather than follow correct reporting procedure.

He took the stand at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse yesterday.

The system clearly failed the young girls who fell into the grips of convicted pedophile teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes, but so far nobody within the school hierarchy has admitted blame.

Byrnes is serving 10 years' imprisonment for 44 child sex offences involving 13 girls aged between eight and 10 years old.

Daughter became withdrawn after abuse

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 to follow when serious allegations of abuse were made.

His testimony revealed that he failed to follow the protocols set out in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit, given to every school in the Toowoomba Diocese.

Mr Hayes told the commission he first received reports of Byrnes' offences - then alleged, now confirmed - in September, 2007.

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 (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.

Student protection officer did not know what grooming was

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 not followed the manual's reporting process immediately after first receiving reports of misconduct, but said principals within the diocese all operated under the understanding that the Catholic Education Office "was the first port of call".

"Why didn't you apply the procedures in the Student Protection and Risk Management Kit and document what was said and submit (it), giving the form required by the procedures..." counsel assisting Andrew Naylor 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 followed, Mr Hayes said he believed he was "working within the system expectations".

"That's a question for my superiors ..." 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."

Mr Naylor replied: "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."

"As I've said to you, I did not say that," Mr Hayes responded.

The commission heard further claims that Toowoomba Diocese student education officer Christopher Fry, who will take the stand today, had consciously omitted accusations that Byrnes had put his hands down a student's pants from a disciplinary letter to the teacher.

Issues were also raised over the letter's first draft, written by Mr Hayes, which left out an allegation Byrnes had put his hand up girls' skirts.

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 very 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," Mr 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 CEO before the run of the day started."

The draft letter did include an allegation that Byrnes had put his hand down a student's pants.

Mr Hayes said he was advised by his 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 ...," Mr Naylor suggested.

"My focus was to follow my system advice," Mr Hayes responded.

Mr Hayes said he removed the "hands down the pants" dot-point from the draft, emailed the revised copy to his SEO 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 a fortnight later on September 20.

Byrnes admitted in his response 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..."Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse will continue today.


US environmental singer songwriter tours The Northern Rivers

US environmental singer songwriter tours The Northern Rivers

US environmental singer songwriter tours The Northern Rivers

Guy Sebastian confirms Northern Rivers show

Guy Sebastian confirms Northern Rivers show

Tickets go on sale today

To find your purpose, you must fake it to make it

To find your purpose, you must fake it to make it

To find your purpose, you must fake it to make it

Local Partners