ACT News


Commission hears of sex abuse brother chasing and hugging student in classroom

Margaret O'Grady did not report her fears that Brother Gregory Sutton was abusing children at St Carthage's Primary School in Lismore in the 1980s to the police, while she was vice-principal, because she said she had already alerted church authorities.

Ms O'Grady told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse on Thursday she had concluded it was possible that Sutton was abusing students after reading an entry in the teaching diary he kept on his desk.

But as mandatory reporting had not taken effect, she said she put all her concerns and evidence in the hands of the Catholic Education Office.

Ms O'Grady, and another teacher, had decided to check the diary while investigating Sutton's unexplained absence after a school camp.

She said Sutton had been observed to write in his diary more frequently than would be considered necessary.

"The entry [for the day in question] read: 'Picked up AC. What an afternoon. She is magnificent.' "


The subsequent entry reported Sutton and AC had fought. A later entry recorded that they had made up.

"I concluded he had acted absolutely inappropriately for a teacher in our school by picking up a child and spending the rest of the day with her," the former vice-principal said.

Ms O'Grady also told the commission she had seen Sutton chasing two young girls around his classroom before catching and hugging one of them while he was a teacher at St Carthage's.

She said Sutton, who was later sentenced to 18 years' jail for child sex offences spanning three states and territories and many years, had a bad attitude, kept himself isolated from other staff and showed favouritism to selected students.

He was repeatedly warned that his behaviour was unacceptable and, in late 1986, was sent on a personal renewal course to New Zealand.

Ms O'Grady, an older woman whose recollection of specific conversations and meetings was not precise, said Sutton had joined St Carthage's in early 1985 – the same time as a new principal, Sister Julia Sullivan, took up her appointment.

"His attitude towards me was quite hostile,'' Ms O'Grady said. ''I heard remarks he made to other people, including some parents, which were certainly not giving the school praise.

"He isolated himself from most of the other teaching staff. I think it was fairly obvious quite early on."

Ms O'Grady said she and other teachers were concerned at several of Sutton's practices.

"I know the blinds [in his classroom] were drawn. It struck me as a very closed classroom," she said. "The door was often closed, too. It was very closed in and very dark. I thought it was very strange; I had never seen that before in a classroom."

Ms O'Grady said despite repeated warnings, Sutton's behaviour, especially his favouritism of some students, had not changed over two years and that she had lost faith in Sister Julia's ability to manage him effectively as a result.

Asked about the incident when she saw Sutton chase, catch and hug a girl in his classroom, she said the scene had shocked her.

"There was something about what I had seen that just didn't seem right. I spoke to Mr Duroux, another teacher, and we both thought it was serious."