Former teacher Gerard Byrnes leaves court at an earlier appearance.
Former teacher Gerard Byrnes leaves court at an earlier appearance.

Dementia raised in child rape case

PEDOPHILE school teacher Gerard Vincent Byrnes yesterday confessed to raping and indecently dealing with young girls, but his victims’ families will have to wait longer to hear his punishment.

Audible sighs of frustration filled the Toowoomba District Court yesterday when Byrnes’ sentence was adjourned.

The court’s public gallery was filled with the families of Byrnes’ child victims eager for their nightmare to end with the sentencing of the former Catholic primary school teacher.

However, even before the 61-year-old was arraigned on 44 separate charges, Crown prosecutor Sarah Farnden told Judge Deborah Richards she would seek an adjournment of the sentence because of a psychologist’s report submitted just the night before which claimed Byrnes had the onset of dementia.

That report could have a significant effect on sentence, she submitted.

Two conflicting psychologist reports on Byrnes were now before the court, one that claimed he had dementia and one that said he didn’t.

The late report referred to MRI scans which the psychologist who prepared the report claimed showed the onset of dementia.

Judge Richards ordered that a new report from a neurologist examining all the medical material be obtained so the court could be guided as to Byrnes’ state of health.

The anger of the victims’ families was quelled somewhat when Judge Richards explained that had the sentence proceeded yesterday, the court would have to accept that Byrnes had dementia and he could receive a sentence more favourable to him than he might otherwise be entitled to.

However, the judge ordered that the accused Byrnes be arraigned on all 44 charges.

For the first time, Byrnes stood in the dock before the victims’ families and pleaded guilty to each of 33 counts of indecently dealing with girls under the age of 12, 10 counts of raping girls under 12, and one count of maintaining a sexual relationship with a girl under 12.

The offences were committed against 13 different girls between January, 2007, and September, 2008.

All victims were students in Byrnes’s classes and were aged about nine and 10 at the time. Of further concern was that Byrnes had been the school’s designated child protection officer at the time of the offences.

The sobs of each of the parents increased as the name of their particular child was read out to the court amid each individual charge.

Before Judge Richards arrived in court, emotions boiled over with one parent approaching Byrnes in the dock.

Leaning over the dock’s glass panel and in the face of the pedophile, the man said something to Byrnes which wasn’t heard in the public gallery, but as he was led from the court by the bailiff and police officers, the parent was heard to say something like “You picked the wrong family, Byrnes”.

The man was allowed back in court after Judge Richards took her seat on the bench.

The matter was adjourned for mention back in the same court to Friday, April 23. Byrnes was remanded in custody.

Parents of three of the victim children have launched separate civil claims against the Corporation of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba, the entity responsible for the school.

Solicitor Damian Scattini, representing the three families, said he would claim that the three girls he was acting for were all sexually abused after the principal and his Catholic Education Office superiors were earlier informed of another student’s complaint that she had been sexually abused by Byrnes.

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