AAP – Stories of ruined lives, death threats, lost police statements and a three-decade-old apology have featured in the opening session of child sexual assault hearings in Canberra.
Witnesses on Tuesday recounted their mistreatment at the hands of Marist Brothers Gregory Sutton and John Chute who worked as teachers at schools in NSW, the ACT and Queensland.
Sutton worked for a period at St Carthages in Lismore, while Chute is a former principal of St Josephs (now Trinity College).
‘The affect of the abuse by Brother Gregory has been profound and had a significant impact on me in a number of areas of my life,’ one female victim told the hearing, recounting numerous problems since the 1984 abuse.
Another woman, now 40, said she believed Sutton when he threatened to kill her family if she told anyone about the mistreatment.
‘I also felt that even if I did tell, that no one would believe me anyway,’ she said, referring to Sutton as ‘god-like’ in the eyes of her southwest Sydney school community.
The woman said she failed as a student because of the abuse and has since suffered alcoholism, nightmares, flashbacks, mood swings, anger, low self-esteem and has also tried to commit suicide.
The women are among scores of victims to be paid more than $8.5 million compensation by the Marist Brothers for abuse allegations linked to Sutton and Chute.
But neither had received an apology from their abuser or the church.
Lawyer Greg Walsh, representing Sutton, said he spoke to his client during a break in proceedings and had a message to relay.
‘I wish to convey to you his apology for what he did to you which was an outrageous breach of trust,’ Mr Walsh said.
One of the women quietly replied ‘thank you’.
Both women said they made statements to NSW Police in 1989 regarding the abuse they suffered at age 10 and 11.
They were later told both statements had been lost.
Sutton and Chute have since been convicted and jailed for multiple child sex offences involving scores of children.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will investigate what measures were taken by the Marist Brothers and other authorities to act on reports of inappropriate acts by the pair.
The brothers were regularly moved between schools and remained in positions of contact with children, despite repeated complaints by students and parents and warnings from fellow teachers.
Chute spent 14 years of his 40-year teaching career at Canberra’s Marist College from the mid-1970s where 39 boys allege he assaulted them.
One of those boys was Damian De Marco, now 45, who says he was abused by Chute in 1981.
Mr Walsh, who also represented Chute, suggested Mr De Marco’s recollection of events relating to the abuse had been affected by cannabis use.
‘My memory is very vivid,’ Mr De Marco insisted.
‘I can picture to this day what happened in that storeroom.’
The hearing, part of a nationwide schedule, continues in Canberra on Wednesday.