Probe told Vic school didn’t work with police probing sex-abuse teacher

Even after being convicted the teacher was offered another teaching post.

Even after being convicted the teacher was offered another teaching post. Photo: AAP

Victoria’s education department put a teacher’s reputation ahead of student safety, allowing him to keep working despite a police investigation into his child sex abuse offences, an inquiry has heard.

Department deputy secretary David Howes on Thursday faced the inquiry into historical child sexual abuse at Beaumaris Primary and 22 other schools from the 1960s until 1999.

The case of pedophile teacher David McGregor was put under the spotlight.

McGregor was allowed to continue teaching in February 1985 after the education department received a letter from a concerned parent that he was under police investigation for sexually abusing children and had admitted to some of the allegations.

Dr Howes confirmed that the department did not contact police to follow up, instead going to McGregor to explore his wishes about school placements ahead of charges being laid.

The department responded to the concerned parent saying it was investigating the allegations, despite not having any procedures in place to handle child sexual abuse complaints.

Misleading responses

“The letter is written to the parent with some comfort (that) things will be handled,” inquiry chair Kathleen Foley put to Dr Howes.

“Another interpretation would be to hold the parent off and say it will be managed to give the sense that there was a response under way,” Dr Howes responded.

The department also considered pending charges were not sufficient to warrant further action and told the parent it would monitor the situation.

Dr Howes said monitoring the situation “depressingly” may have been as much a reference to whether there was more community agitation as to the “egregious behaviour”.

“I interpret that as the interest of the reputation of the school, the community unrest, not in the interests of the children at that school,” he said.

After McGregor was charged with child sexual abuse offences, he was transferred to a non-teaching position.

Dr Howes agreed it was up to parents to agitate for the department to take any action.

McGregor was eventually convicted on the child sex abuse charges.

Based on his previous record and good character references, McGregor was handed a suspension by the director general of the education department, instead of being terminated.

Offered a new job

After his suspension expired, McGregor successfully applied for work as a relief teacher and eventually gained a teaching role at another school.

It was only after backlash from the community and a principal that the offer was rescinded.

Dr Howes conceded the department’s conduct and placements after McGregor’s criminal convictions were to protect him, his role in the community, prospects of further employment and reputation.

He apologised to the victims who were let down by the people who held his equivalent departmental position at the time.

“They fell a very long way short of doing not only everything that could’ve been done, but anything that could’ve been done in any real or substantive terms to protect children,” Dr Howes said.

Patrick O’Leary, who advises the National Strategy to Prevent and Respond to Child Sexual Abuse, said perpetrators establish credibility not only through their work, but also doing extra things and influencing others to believe their work.

“Having a particular title or status in an institution such as a school … it gives a level of authority and influence to not be held in question,” he said.

Professor O’Leary dispelled the notion that perpetrators are out of control, when in fact they are often purposeful and controlled in their tactics.

He urged caution when assessing good character references in cases involving grooming.

“Perpetrators use techniques to fill a gap by coaching or sharing a part of the caring burden where the child’s family and the community might feel indebted,” Prof O’Leary said.

  • 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732)
  • National Sexual Abuse and Redress Support 1800 211 028
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