Coast principal struggles during child sex abuse evidence

UPDATE 1.50PM: The principal of Peregian Beach College has become emotional at the conclusion of his evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Chris Shirley was previously the head of Shalom Christian College, a Townsville school for predominantly indigenous students, where a 14-year-old female boarder was allegedly gang raped in 2006.

Mr Shirley, who has been at Peregian since 2009, blinked and appeared to battle to express himself when asked at the commission how safety concerns had been managed at Shalom following the alleged incident.

"Safety concerns were an ongoing issue and probably still are. It takes a toll on everybody," Mr Shirley said.

The girl's parents had told the commission earlier in the week that Mr Shirley had painted their daughter as promiscuous and tried to discourage them from taking the matter further, saying the boys were from influential families.

The parents said police only found out about the alleged rape while at the college on another case.

Mr Shirley told the commission that procedures had been in place to record all reports of sexual incidents involving students, whether they occurred at school, home or elsewhere.

He said he did not speak directly to the girl when the matter was brought to his attention because "there was no need" but details were passed on to the Department of Child Safety and police.

"It was clear to me that this was serious and needed to be reported and needed to be reported to people who could investigate," he said.

Mr Shirley admitted the choice of wording in a report by the Head of Boarding at the school, which said the girl had "confessed" to having sexual contact with a number of boys, was unusual.

But he said it was his "guess" the Head of Boarding had used the word because the girl had previously given different explanations about her absence from class that day.

Mr Shirley denied having passed judgement on the "grade" of the incident and said the matter needed to be reported simply because it broke boundaries.

Mr Shirley told the commission that up to 20 sexual matters a year were reported at Shalom.

He said it was not unusual for students to have had sexual contact before they started at the school.

"I don't think it was the culture of the school. I think the culture of the school was quite at odds with the culture of the places from which the students came," he said.

"My view was that there was a level of acceptability that students bring with them about levels of engagement of a physical nature, consensual or otherwise,"

He said the matters reported at Shalom recorded in a register regardless of whether they occurred at school, home, or elsewhere.

The school's board was kept informed of the registered incidents, he said.

"I don't think they were comfortable about the level of harm that students were experiencing both inside and outside the school."

10AM: A Sunshine Coast principal in charge of a college when a boarder, 14, was allegedly raped by a group of boys is giving evidence at a Royal Commission.

The head of Peregian Beach College is giving evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse this morning.

Chris Shirley was head of Shalom Christian College in Townsville when a 14-year-old boarder was allegedly raped by a group of boys at in March 2006.

The girl's mother told the commission this week that Mr Shirley tried to paint a picture to herself and her husband, when they arrived to collect their daughter, that she had been "asking for what those boys did to her".

Mr Shirley has been principal of Peregian Beach College since 2009.
 

Peregian Beach College head Chris Shirley.
Peregian Beach College head Chris Shirley. Contributed


A woman answering the phone at Peregian Beach College this morning told the Sunshine Coast Daily that Mr Shirley was in Sydney on business.

He can currently be seen giving evidence on a live broadcast of the hearing. Watch live here.

A representative of the Parents and Friends Association said they had been instructed to refer any media enquiries to the school's reception.



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