Townsville School Where Student Raped "Cannot Provide Safe Environment', Royal Commission Told

By Ben Millington
ABC News
November 3, 2016

PHOTO: Christopher England said the current ratio was one staff member to every 15 boarding house students. (

The principal of a North Queensland boarding school where a teenage girl was raped says the school still cannot guarantee the safety of its students due to a lack of funding.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is looking into how Townsville-based Indigenous school Shalom Christian College handled the sexual assault of a 14-year-old female student in the 2000s.

The girl, known to the commission as CLF, was raped by four boys behind a classroom at night when the students were supposed to be in the boarding house.

At a hearing in Sydney, current principal Christopher England was asked if he could provide a safe environment for students in the boarding houses with resource levels.

He replied: "No sir."

Justice Peter McClellan, who presided over the hearing, interjected to say it was is "a very large statement" to make.

Mr England replied: "Yes sir."

He said the current ratio of one staff member to every 15 students in the boarding houses was not sufficient to protect children from harm.

"We would like [the ratio] to be lower, but we can't get it lower because we would be taking more money away from the education bundle that we get to educate the children in classes," he said.

"Unlike other boarding schools, the fees that we charge our parents are nil because they come with nothing. We provide a service to the poorest sector of the community."

The school accepts Indigenous Australian students from remote communities across the country and said it provided education in a "culturally inclusive" environment.

It is federally funded through Abstudy.

Former principal denies telling girl's parents to 'leave it alone'

On Wednesday, the girl's parents told the hearing the school discouraged them from reporting the attack to police as the boys involved were from influential Indigenous families in Townsville.

PHOTO: Former principal Christopher Shirley said it was a "serious failure" to not get psychological help for the girl. (

They also said then-principal Christopher Shirley had implied their daughter had been "promiscuous" and "asking for it".

Mr Shirley gave evidence on Thursday and denied the accusations.

"We don't take boarders from Townsville," he said.

"I doesn't make sense to me ... I didn't say that, and I'd already activated procedures before they arrived."

Mr Shirley said he was totally focused on the victim's safety at the time and took steps to keep her away from the four boys involved, but the girl's parents instructed him not to go to police until they arrived in Townsville from their remote community.

"If matters had progressed the way that had been planned then CLF would have made her statement to [the] Juvenile Aid Bureau prior to them arriving, but that was stopped," he said.

But he agreed it was a "serious failure" not to provide expert psychological help to the girl after the attack, while she was at serious risk of self-harm.

"In hindsight, I could have activated some of those professional services ... so yes I could have done something differently then," he said.

Mr Shirley also gave evidence about the high proportion of students who came to the school from remote Indigenous communities with a range of complex issues.

He believed 60 per cent were affected by substance abuse and 90 per cent suffered emotional or physical abuse.

"My view was that there was a level of acceptability that students brought with them about levels of engagement on a physical or sexual nature, consensual, that would not be supported by the [broader] community," he said.

The royal commission finished hearing evidence about Shalom Christian College and will continue inquiring into other Australian schools.








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