Toowoomba school thrust into child sex abuse spotlight

A TOOWOOMBA primary school, its former principal, staff members and the Catholic Church have been thrust into the national spotlight over what they knew about child sexual abuse allegations at the school well before they were reported to police.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse opened on Monday in Brisbane where former Toowoomba Bishop William Morris will be called to give evidence.

The commission was told a former teacher at the school Gerard Vincent Byrnes had been convicted of 44 child sex offences involving 13 girls aged between eight and 10-years of age as a result of complaints from several parents.

Byrnes' offending at the school, which cannot be named, occurred between January 2007 and November 2008.

The commission was told the offences against the girls ranged from digital vaginal and anal rape as well as numerous cases of touching and fondling.

He is currently serving a 10-year jail sentence.

Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness told the hearing more than 10 witnesses will be called to give evidence at the commission including the school's former principal Terence Michael Hayes.

She also outlined for the first-time details surrounding the compensation payout the victim's families received from the Toowoomba Catholic Diocese and the role Bishop William Morris played in the mediation process.

"In 2010, former High Court Justice Ian Callinan was retained by the Diocese to act as mediator in relation to the civil claims against the Diocese arising from the sexual assaults committed by Byrnes," she said.

"Bishop Morris wrote to the families of the victims and invited them to participate in the mediation process.

"Many, but not all, elected to participate.

"To date, more than $3 million has been paid in damages, costs and administration fees in relation to offences committed against nine girls.

"More than $2.88 million was paid by the insurers for the Catholic Church, with the remainder from the Diocese."

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

Earlier, Ms Furness told the commission 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.

She told the commission the request for Byrnes to be re-hired came from the former principal Mr Hayes.

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

The royal commission hearings continue today. 

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