Royal Commission releases findings on the Toowoomba case study

Royal Commission releases findings on the Toowoomba case study

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has published the 'Report of Case Study No. 6: The response of a primary school and the Toowoomba Catholic Education Office to the conduct of Gerard Byrnes.'

On 4 October 2010, Gerard Vincent Byrnes was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, including a non-parole period of eight years, after he pleaded guilty to 44 child sexual abuse offences against 13 girls who were then aged between eight and 10 years. Mr Byrnes was a teacher and the girls he offended against were all students in his classes.

This report examines the response by the principal and other members of staff of a Catholic primary school in Toowoomba, Queensland, to allegations of child sexual abuse made against Mr Byrnes. It also looked at the response by officers of the Catholic Education Office, Diocese of Toowoomba (TCEO), to information supplied by the primary school principal regarding the allegations. 

Toowoomba school

The Commissioners found that school Principal Terence Hayes did not comply with the procedures in the school’s applicable student protection kit in that he did not report the allegations of sexual abuse KQ made during the telephone conversation on 3 September 2007 and the meeting on 6 September 2007 to the police. The Commissioners found that Mr Hayes sought to avoid responsibility for reporting to the police these allegations of sexual abuse by maintaining the responsibility to do so was that of the TCEO.

Mr Hayes spoke to TCEO Senior Education Officers Christopher Fry and Ian Hunter but did not inform them that KH had alleged that Mr Byrnes had ‘put his hand up our skirts’. He did not inform Mr Fry and Mr Hunter that he suspected that Mr Byrnes had sexually abused KH.

The Commissioners found that upon receiving allegations against Mr Byrnes, the steps taken by Mr Hayes to monitor Mr Byrnes’s conduct were inadequate and inappropriate and Mr Hayes should not have allowed Mr Byrnes to continue in the position of student protection contact.

Mr Byrnes retired from his position in June 2008 but in July 2008 was re-engaged as a relief teacher at the school following approval by Margaret Hendriks, Assistant Director of the TCEO. The Commissioners found that Mr Hayes sought and enabled the re-appointment of Mr Byrnes as a relief teacher knowing of the allegations of child sexual abuse against Mr Byrnes. Neither Mr Fry nor Mr Hunter reported the allegations of sexual abuse against Mr Byrnes to their supervisor, Ms Hendriks, the Assistant Director of the TCEO, or the director of the TCEO, Mr Borserio. This contributed to Mr Byrnes being permitted to be appointed as a relief teacher because Ms Hendriks, who agreed to his appointment, was not made aware of the disclosures concerning KH and KA. 

Mr Byrnes was arrested in November 2008.

Response of the Diocese

The Commissioners found that on being advised of Mr Byrnes’s offending and the response of the school and TCEO to the September 2007 allegations of child sexual abuse, Bishop William Morris of the Diocese of Toowoomba responded appropriately by commissioning an independent investigation, appointing an independent mediator for the purpose of assessing and advising on reparations and establishing a Child Abuse Response Team to advise on improvements to child protection.
Please note: the primary school at which the offences occurred cannot be named in this report because section 10 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1987 (Qld) prevents its publication.

A copy of the full report (PDF 1.3 MB) can be found here.