Teacher claims she raised alarm

A FORMER St Andrew's Christian School teacher says she warned school authorities about principal Frank Bailey's behaviour almost two years before he repeatedly sexually assaulted a female student.

Hazel Bell, who worked four days a week at the Clarenza school teaching science, said she was shocked and horrified to learn last year that Bailey had been arrested on sex charges.

She said she first raised concerns about Bailey's inappropriate contact with students in early 2006 - almost two years before the offences.

Ms Bell said she had repeatedly raised the alarm about what she considered to be Bailey's 'grooming' behaviour and was sickened to have her suspicions about him confirmed.

She is angry that, despite raising concerns with what she believed to be the relevant people, little or nothing appeared to have been done to address Bailey's behaviour.

Undeterred, she laid a complaint about Bailey with the NSW Ombudsman.

Ms Bell said she wasn't notified of the outcome of the investigation. Four months later, in October 2007, Bailey resigned from the school, effective from the end of the year.

A month after tending his resignation, Bailey repeatedly sexually assaulted a 16-year-old female student in his home over the course of a week.

Bailey last month pleaded guilty to five counts of having sexual intercourse with a 16-year-old under his care.

The 43-year-old is expected to be sentenced in Grafton District Court next month. He faces a maximum term of imprisonment of eight years.

Now he has admitted the charges, the victim and her family are hoping to start the process of moving on with their lives and recovering from the trauma.

Ms Bell believes there were warning signs about his behaviour. She said she became concerned about his interaction with students as early as late 2005, when he openly flouted the 'no touching' rule at the school.

At that stage, he'd already been principal of the school for a year.

Her husband, Jefferson Bell, contacted the Presbyterian Church of Australia NSW with their concerns.

In an email sent to the church in March 2006, Ms Bell and her husband raised a series of concerns, including the relationship between Bailey and the victim.

They informed the church that Ms Bell had seen Bailey put his arm around a student and saw the victim and Bailey holding hands.

Mr Bell wrote: “There may be no sexual misconduct occurring, intended or planned, but the patterns of behaviour indicate a risk of such.”

Ms Bell said the red flag really started waving for her when an item appeared in the school newsletter saying students had free will to love whoever they liked, and girls from broken homes were in particular need of a father figure as that was how their sexuality was determined.

But it was when Mr Bell saw a 15-year-old female student sit on Bailey's lap while out bowling with the church's youth group that the couple decided to act.

Fearing nothing was being done, he emailed a church staff member to inform them that Bailey was breaking the 'no contact' rule and inviting students to come to his house in the hours between school and youth group.

Ms Bell said the church stepped in and re-instituted the 'no contact' rule for the youth group, but not for the school.

That was April 2006. By November, Ms Bell was becoming increasingly frustrated with the lack of action regarding Bailey's behaviour with students.

She made what she considered to be a formal complaint.

Ms Bell received two disciplinary letters over the next few days, and two weeks later funding for her position was withdrawn and she was made redundant.

Concerned about child safety in the school, Ms Bell said she lodged a complaint with the NSW Ombudsman, who decided an investigation was warranted.

She said the Ombudsman asked the chairman of the school board, David Officer, to oversee the investigation.

A lawyer was then brought in to undertake inquiries.

Ms Bell was not told the outcome of that investigation.

Bailey resigned from the school three months after the inquiry began. He secured a job teaching at another Christian school in Gympie and was preparing to move there when the offences happened.

Ms Bell said she believed that if her complaints had been properly investigated, Bailey could have been stopped before the offences were committed.

The victim's mother said she was also disappointed with the way concerns about Bailey were handled.

She said she was not told at any stage that Bailey was being investigated for inappropriate touching of students, let alone that her daughter's relationship with Bailey was the basis of a complaint.

She said had she known, there was no way she would have let her daughter stay on at the school with Bailey.

She only found out about the sexual assaults three months after they happened. Her daughter wanted to tell her, but couldn't. Instead, the daughter asked her boyfriend to do it.

The mother said her reaction was instant and instinctive: “I told him to hang up the phone so I could call the police.”

Bailey was charged two months later. The mother said she was pleased, for her daughter's sake, that justice was being done.

“She is the lucky one. She's going to come out of this okay because I'm there for her,” she said.

While her daughter hoped to inspire other sexual assault victims to come forward to police, the mother said she was going public with the story in the hope it would warn other parents of the dangers of sexual predators like Bailey.

“I want people to know so they can be aware and this never, ever happens again,” she said.

That is also what Ms Bell is afraid of. Despite doing only what she was legally required to do as a teacher, she was angry that other people did nothing.

She said there were laws in place to protect people when reporting child protection breaches.

“I think it's important for people to know that it wasn't just something that happened. It was a predatory thing that involved grooming over time,” she said.

Presbyterian Church of Australia in NSW general manager, Wayne Richards, said yesterday it would not be appropriate to argue the facts or comment on allegations regarding the school or Mr Bailey in view of the possibility of further legal proceedings.

But he said the school took its obligations for the welfare of its students and staff very seriously.

“In particular it takes its child protection responsibilities extremely seriously as does the Presbyterian Church in NSW, with its robust Breaking the Silence policy.”

Mr Richards said the church remained very committed to St Andrew's Christian School.

“The school last year celebrated its 10th anniversary and its focus remains on providing a quality and caring Christian education,” he said.

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