Former Goulburn teacher sentenced to 20 months' prison

Goulburn courthouse. Photo: Lyn Terrey.
Goulburn courthouse. Photo: Lyn Terrey.

A former Saint Patrick’s College teacher is appealing his conviction and sentence on a charge of historical indecent assault.

Gavan Dunn, 62, of Newcastle, was found guilty in April of indecently assaulting a 14-year-old boy while on a school cadet camp at Singleton in 1981.

On Tuesday in Goulburn Local Court, Magistrate Geraldine Beattie sentenced him to 20 months’ prison with a 14-month non-parole period.

Mrs Beattie described it as a “very significant breach of trust.”

“Clearly it has had a significant and ongoing impact on (the complainant’s) life and marriage,” she said.

“...It is an offence where the primary consideration is deterrence and denouncing the conduct but the sentence must be in the legislative framework of the time.”

As the sentence was handed down, Dunn, who had sat with arms folded and head bowed, picked up his backpack before Corrective Services officers escorted him away.

His barrister Hugh White immediately filed an all grounds appeal. This is set down for the District Court on October 2. On Wednesday, Mr White applied for bail for Dunn, arguing there was no risk he wouldn’t attend his next court date.

“With the likelihood of facing full-time custody yesterday he turned up and will attend court as required,” he said.

Mr White also argued the prosecution hadn’t requested bail refusal and since 2016, his client had not committed other offences and was under strict parole conditions. He said he had a reasonable prospect of success with an appeal and was entitled to remain on bail in Newcastle.

But Crown prosecutor Michael Love disagreed, saying there was a good prospect of conviction on appeal and the likelihood of a long custodial sentence. He told the court that Dunn’s offending had increased between 2014 and 2016 and he was at risk of further offence before his appeal date.

The court on Tuesday heard that Dunn had been convicted on child pornography offences in Queensland and NSW in 2011, 2014 and 2016. He had four months’ parole remaining for his 2016 conviction. Mr White also said his client was on the child protection register

In refusing bail, Mrs Beattie pointed to Dunn’s prior convictions involving children in NSW and Queensland and “an escalation of offending in recent years.”

“There is a significant difference in appearing before court with no certainty about what is going to happen and appearing before the District Court on appeal,” she said.

“My view is it is a strong Crown case, proved beyond reasonable doubt. The maximum penalty for jail is eight years’ imprisonment.”

She did not agree there was a reasonable prospect of success on appeal and refused him bail.

“A substantial breach of trust”

On Tuesday, the magistrate gave no discount on the prison term due to Dunn’s not guilty plea. He had opted for a hearing in the Local Court.

The former teacher, who taught at St Pat’s from 1979 to 1990, was charged in June, 2017 with one count of indecent assault. Police said the teen went to the first aid tent Dunn was manning at the cadet camp, suffering stomach cramps. They alleged Dunn had lifted the boy’s shirt and reached through two layers of clothing to do touch the teen’s penis.

The complainant said the touching had lasted a matter of seconds.

“Upon being touched I went super tense,” he had told the court.

“I can’t remember whether I actually said anything but I definitely gasped and certainly gave a negative reaction.”

Dunn had stepped back quickly, removed his hands and told the boy to leave the tent, the complainant said.

The alleged victim took the matter to the Catholic Church in 2012 and police in 2014. Police extensively interviewed him in 2015.

In a victim impact statement, the complainant detailed prescription medicine and alcohol abuse and a marriage breakdown as a result of the alleged indecent assault. The incident had had a profound impact and he could not bear people touching him.

Mr White said Dunn was not currently working and was undergoing group therapy as part of his parole. He had found these helpful and wanted to continue sessions privately beyond the parole term. In addition, his client had demonstrated insight into his offending behaviour.

“Most significantly, this is the first and only offence of this type on his record. The offence is now historical and it occurred when he was 25,” Mr White told the court.

“He was a victim of sexual abuse himself when he was 22 and that had psychological implications for him. I am not necessarily blaming that, but I raise it as background.”

The punishment must fit the crime.

Magistrate Geraldine Beattie

Mr White asked Mrs Beattie to consider the offence occurred 37 years ago, that it lasted two to three seconds, did not continue and there had been no similar matters before or since. He described it as being at the lower end of seriousness.

“The fact is that since this occurred his life has gone on and his circumstances have changed and the delay is a factor relative to sentence,” he said.

“...There is no likelihood of this type of offending again.”

Mr White said Dunn had no recollection of the event as a deliberate act and no idea of the victim’s ongoing trauma until he read the victim impact statement.

“He feels very sorry about that and has expressed contrition. He accepts your ruling and I ask that you take that into account,” he said.

Mr White argued for a sentence of less than two years, suspended on condition Dunn accepted ongoing counselling and other parole conditions.

But Mr Love argued it had been a substantial breach of trust by a teacher and army cadet officer on a child who had been described as “nervous and anxious.”

Rather than receiving the help he needed, the child had been assaulted.

Mr Love pointed to Dunn’s child pornography offences and the need for deterrence. He argued the offence fell into the mid-range.

Mrs Beattie agreed.

“In terms of where this sits in terms of seriousness, the touching involved reaching through two layers of clothing. I wouldn’t class that as low-range, it is mid-range,” she said.

Mrs Beattie said Dunn had taken advantage of his position and the tent’s isolated location. Although the touching had been brief, this didn’t mean it couldn’t have a significant impact. She accepted that it had and read from the victim impact statement.

“My view is that a 20-month imprisonment is appropriate. To suspend that doesn’t address the principles of denunciation and deterrence. The punishment must fit the crime,” she said. 

Dunn’s earliest release if unsuccessful on appeal is October 6, 2019.

The police investigation, led by Detective Senior Constable David Turner, was part of Strikeforce Charish. It was established in 2014 to investigate allegations of child sex abuse and indecent assault said to have occurred between 1978 and 1990 at the former St Patrick's College.