Teacher convicted of child abuse was ‘protected’ at expense of students, inquiry hears

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A teacher convicted of child abuse in the 1980s remained employed by the Department of Education until 1992, ultimately using his position to work with homeless children, a board of inquiry has been told.

David Ernest Keith MacGregor is one of four teachers being examined by the board of inquiry into historical child sexual abuse at Beaumaris Primary School and other schools.

Ribbons attached to the fence at Beaumaris Primary School in support of childhood victim survivors of historical sexual abuse.Credit: Penny Stephens

MacGregor was first accused of child sexual abuse at Kunyung Primary School, in Mount Eliza, in February 1985. He remained in the classroom until May that year, despite concerns from parents and an ongoing investigation by police.

Education Department deputy secretary David Howes told the inquiry on Thursday that the department had acted to protect MacGregor and the school at every step, with little consideration for the safety of children.

“The default setting at all times … was to place the interests of the teachers and the school ahead of the students,” he said.

Counsel assisting Fiona Ryan SC said MacGregor was moved to a non-teaching position within the department after he was charged in 1985.

In its own disciplinary hearing the following year, the department kept MacGregor employed but banned him from teaching until September 1988.

Letters read to the board of inquiry show the department took as mitigating detail that offences were committed at MacGregor’s house, not the school, and that the teacher had not acted in a premeditated way, rather “to assist some young lads who were considered to have a difficult home background”.

MacGregor, who taught at Beaumaris Primary School for nine years until 1976, pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault in relation to students at Kunyung Primary School in August 1985. He was sentenced to six months’ prison in 1994 for gross indecency and indecent assault, relating to a student at Chelsea Heights Primary School in 1980.

Howes said the department’s investigations never extended to other schools, despite MacGregor’s long teaching history.

In September 1998, as his ban on teaching lapsed, MacGregor successfully applied for a position at Langwarrin Primary School. It was only prevented when the principal objected after hearing of his history. He remained with the department until his retirement in 1992.

Education Department deputy secretary David Howes at the inquiry on Wednesday.

In 1990, the department received a letter from a lecturer at the Chisholm Institute of TAFE claiming that MacGregor was hoping to be a school principal and was “currently working with street children”.

The lecturer said in the letter that MacGregor’s employment with the department “continues the perception that he is still a teacher”. The lecturer requested the department evaluate the suitability of teachers found guilty of indictable offences.

In a concluding statement, Howes told the board of inquiry that people who previously held his equivalent positions had fallen “a very long way short” of doing not only “everything that could be done, but also anything that could be done in any real or substantive terms to protect children”.

“I’m aware of the damage that has done,” he said. “I apologise profoundly for that and express ongoing regret that that was the case.”

Former Victorian premier Daniel Andrews announced the board of inquiry this year to examine allegations of historical abuse at Beaumaris Primary and the department’s response at the time.

Four alleged abusers, including MacGregor, have been identified by the inquiry. Grahame Harold Steele was accused but never convicted before he died in 2013. The other two, who can be known only by the pseudonyms of Wyatt and Stan, were imprisoned for multiple child sex abuse offences. All are former teachers at Beaumaris Primary and other government schools.

The inquiry, chaired by Kathleen Foley SC, has been expanded to 23 other schools, where the alleged perpetrators from Beaumaris also worked.

The department is aware of at least 40 alleged victim-survivors from civil and criminal proceedings. Howes said on Wednesday that there were likely more.

The second round of hearings of the Beaumaris inquiry focuses on accountability. Education Department secretary Jenny Atta will give evidence on Friday.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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