Convicted child sex offender appears in witness box at royal commission

ABC - The World Today
July 1, 2014

[with audio]

ELEANOR HALL: The child abuse royal commission has for the first time heard evidence from a convicted child sex offender.

Former Marist Brother, Gregory Sutton, has appeared at the inquiry in Sydney to give evidence about his time as a teacher at schools in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT.

He was convicted in 1996 of 67 counts of sexual offences against 15 children.

He served 12 years in jail.

The Church has paid $1.8 million in compensation relating to Sutton's offences.

Our correspondent covering the inquiry, Emily Bourke, joins us now.

Emily, what sort of questioning did this convicted offender face when he took the stand this morning?

EMILY BOURKE: Greg Sutton has been asked about his teaching career in Australia, which began in the 1970s. The royal commission has heard that he moved frequently between schools run by the Marist Brothers and seemingly those transfers occurred without much explanation. But we know that there were complaints about his misconduct with children dating back to his very early teaching career in 1974.

There's been extended questioning about how Sutton came to be sent overseas. Evidence so far has been that he was put on a on a plane to America in 1989 just a few days after the Marist Brothers were alerted that police were investigating.

Sutton was in Canada for counseling therapy in 1989 and then moved to United States and he was there until 1996 when he was extradited to Australia.

The royal commission has previously heard suggestions that the Marist Brothers moved with unseemly haste to get Sutton out of the country; it's also heard that the Marist Brothers were less the cooperative with the police as they tried to track him down.

The former provincial of the Marist Brothers, Alexis Turton, has denied those accusations.

But Sutton himself this morning believed the timing of the trip overseas was extremely sudden.

Now, a couple of years later, still in the United States in '91, Sutton asked to be formally removed from the order and that was granted, but a year later police in Australia issued 14 warrants for his arrest and another 10 were issued in 1993.

Under questioning by Gail Furness, the counsel assisting this inquiry, Sutton has said that he received a call from his former superior Alexis Turton who gave him the news about the warrants.

GAIL FURNESS: Well what was your response to him telling you that there was a warrant that had been issued?

GREG SUTTON: My response was that I phoned Brother Sean Salmon, who was the provincial of New York province, and asked him what I should do.

GAIL FURNESS: Did you ask Brother Turton what you should do?

GREG SUTTON: I did, yes. I did.

I remember him saying that, saying something to that effect: stay where you are and live your new life.

GAIL FURNESS: Well, what did you consider your options to be prior to ringing the provincial for New York?

GREG SUTTON: To do as Alexis had said and that was to stay and live my life.

GAIL FURNESS: That was one option.

GREG SUTTON: That was one option.

GAIL FURNESS: Any others?

GREG SUTTON: He didn't give any and I wasn't aware of others that was required of me at that time - advice.

GAIL FURNESS: What advice did he give you?

GREG SUTTON: The same advice.

GAIL FURNESS: Did you seek advice from anyone else?


GAIL FURNESS: Did you seek legal advice?


GAIL FURNESS: Did you understand what your legal position was?


ELEANOR HALL: And that's convicted sex offender, Greg Sutton, on the stand at the royal commission into child sexual abuse this morning.

Now, did his evidence, Emily, back up the evidence from his superiors in the Marist Brothers?

EMILY BOURKE: Well in some ways it conflicts in as much as it's is a difference of opinion, a different recollection of events, and it may generate some more questions for the former provincial of the Marist Brothers, Alexis Turton.

But you might recall that Sutton's lawyer some weeks ago issued an apology to the some of his victims during the inquiry.

Today we heard that Sutton actually wrote to them in the 1996 at the time of that he was being sentenced, and gave those letters to his lawyer to pass on, but the letters were never received.

Lawyer Amy Douglas Baker represents some of Sutton's victims and she quizzed Sutton on how the recent apologies came about.

AMY DOUGLAS BAKER: And in those letters, did you ever acknowledge your wrongdoing?


AMY DOUGLAS BAKER: About two, three weeks ago, Mr Walsh, appearing on your behalf, conveyed an apology to each of Ms ADM and Ms ADQ. Are you aware of that?

GREG SUTTON: I am aware of that?

AMY DOUGLAS BAKER: Who initiated the giving of that apology?

GREG SUTTON: I had initiated my writing the letters; he conveyed that apology himself.

AMY DOUGLAS BAKER: So is the commission to understand that, having discovered that neither letter was received by Ms ADM or Ms ADQ, you sought to rectify the situation and have Mr Walsh make the apology.

GREG SUTTON: He rectified the situation that the letters did not reach the victims.

AMY DOUGLAS BAKER: Is it your evidence that it was Mr Walsh's initiation to give that apology at the royal commission two or three weeks ago?

GREG SUTTON: Yes. And he informed me that he had done so, and I approved of what he had done.

ELEANOR HALL: That's convicted child sex offender Greg Sutton under questioning by lawyer Amy Douglas Baker at the royal commission this morning in Sydney.


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