Convicted paedophile tells commission he never queried school transfers

By Helen Davidson
Guardian (UK)
June 30, 2014

Gregory Sutton was convicted in 1996 after pleading guilty to 67 charges of sexual assault against 15 children.

Gregory Sutton, the Marist Brothers teacher convicted of child sexual abuse, has told the royal commission he never asked why he was transferred from school to school, and that the head of the order told him to stay in the US to avoid a warrant issued for his arrest in Australia.

Sutton was suddenly called to give evidence to the royal commission on institutional responses to child sexual abuse on Tuesday, the first time an abuser who was the subject of a public hearing has been called before one. The commission gave no prior warning, sending an updated witness list to media five minutes before Sutton’s appearance.

Sutton’s identity had been legally hidden for almost 20 years until the beginning of this public hearing, when presiding commissioner Justice Jennifer Coates overturned the suppression order.

Sutton, one of two teachers under examination in this public hearing, was convicted in 1996 after pleading guilty to 67 charges of sexual assault against 15 children. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison, with a minimum term of 12 years, and was released in 2008.

In his evidence Sutton alleged that Brother Alexis Turton, then the provincial (head) of the order, sent him to Canada when the police were investigating Sutton's behaviour at a Sydney school, and later told him to stay overseas when a warrant was out for his arrest in Australia.

Over a few weeks of testimony, the commission has heard that concerns about Sutton’s behaviour began to surface in 1973 at the first school he taught at, in North Queensland, when he was 21. Complaints and concerns followed Sutton at numerous schools during the 1970s and 1980s.

On Tuesday in Canberra he told the commission there was no reason given for his multiple transfers over those decades.

Around May 1987, initiated by the then provincial (head of the order), Alman Dwyer, Sutton was sent to an assessment in Melbourne which he guessed at the time was about his offending.

After the assessment “the provincial suggested I go to a counsellor”, Sutton told the commission.

“Did you?” asked senior counsel assisting Gail Furness.

“No,” he replied. “I didn’t want to.”

Sutton left Australia on 18 August 1989.

About a week before he left, Sutton spoke to Brother John Holdsworth and the father of a victim known as ADO, who came to Sutton in his room.

“It was about the son, and that I had sexually abused him,” Sutton said of the conversation.

“John Holdsworth left the room and left me with the father,” he said.

“He asked me if I did it. I said yes. I think he said: well, we don’t want to see you around our place any more … but I might be imagining that.”

Sutton told no one in the Marist Brothers order about the discussion.

Just days later he met with the then provincial, Brother Alexis Turton, and learned there was a police investigation into his offending at St Thomas Moore school at Campbelltown in Sydney.

Turton suggested Sutton go to Southdown, a centre for priests suffering psychological and addiction problems, near Toronto, Canada, “for treatment”, Sutton said. He said he did not consider he had a choice in the matter. He left four days later.

Sutton did not question the timing of his trip, the commission heard.

Four days after arriving in Chicago – where he would stay for a week before going to Southdown, and return to live afterwards – Turton visited to “ask how the trip was”, Sutton said.

Sutton told the commission that while undergoing treatment he told a Southdown counsellor the reason he believed he was there.

“I was referred by the order and, in my opinion, I thought because of my offending,” Sutton said.

He told the commission he had informed Southdown there was an investigation into his offending in Australia.

Sutton told the commission that in 1992 when he was living in Missouri he received a call from Turton telling him an arrest warrant had been issued by a Lismore court. Sutton asked what he should do.

“He said, 'Stay over there and live your life'," Sutton said.

Turton had previously submitted to the commission that he did not speak to Sutton between 1991, when Sutton asked for receive dispensation to leave the Marist Brothers, and an exchange in “mid-1994.”

Turton testified last week that he received a final report from Southdown, stating that "Greg is clearly a paedophile and in this area one cannot speak with confidence of a 'cure'. Greg must not be involved in a ministry which includes children or young people, or at any time be alone with them without another adult present, and he appears to be accepting of this restriction."

Turton added: "Brother Sutton's principal therapist at Southdown told me that there was unlikely to be a risk of further problems provided Brother Sutton did not work with children."

Turton visited Sutton again in 1991, and also sent a letter advising Sutton not to teach in schools, when he heard the confessed child abuser had gained a non-teaching position in a grade school.

Sutton replied to the letter saying he was not teaching children, the commission heard. He had no further contact with Turton.

Sutton left Chicago in May 1992. Police had issued 24 warrants for his arrest in 1992 and 1993. Meanwhile Sutton was teaching in Missouri, and later became a headmaster at a school there until 1996.

Sutton was extradited back to Australia and convicted the same year.

The commission adjourned to allow other legal teams to familiarise themselves with new evidence before cross-examining Sutton.

Furness indicated that because of continuing investigations into this case, the public hearing would need to continue at a later date, beyond this week’s hearing.



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