Former Nudgee College principal Stephen McLaughlin attended school celebration despite allegations of child sexual abuseBy Rory Callinan
A Christian Brother who was suspected by police of being a paedophile was able to attend a birthday party at exclusive Brisbane private school St Joseph's Nudgee College, despite his order being in negotiations to pay a settlement to one of his alleged victims.
Former college headmaster Stephen David McLaughlin, who had been the subject of unproven child abuse allegations in the 1990s and early 2000s, was photographed at the celebration for a former staff member at the school on May 31, 2017.
Some students from the college were present at an official welcome prior to the function that was then attended by McLaughlin, who had been boarding master at the school in the early 1980s before becoming College headmaster in 1988 and then leader of the Brother's Xavier province in 1996.
Nicknamed Stumpy by students, McLaughlin was investigated in the late 1990s and 2000s and in one case committed for trial on indecent dealing charges, but was never convicted in relation to allegations made by four alleged child abuse victims.
Some of the allegations revolved around the then Brother taking young children, often from single-parent families, to stay with him alone in Brisbane motels.
Investigating police found payment records showing McLaughlin paid for the motel stays using his credit card.
Two of the complainants had siblings who had attended Nudgee College.
At the time, McLaughlin denied all allegations and his legal team argued the complainants were unreliable and their statements contradictory.
But in early 2017, Brisbane solicitor Peter Deed, acting on behalf of one complainant from the late 1990s, approached the Christian Brothers seeking compensation for his client.
The complainant alleged that when he was a 15-year-old schoolboy in Brisbane he had been introduced to McLaughlin by self-confessed child molester and Nudgee old boy Dennis Norman Douglas in 1997, according to legal documents sighted by the ABC.
The complainant alleged he then took part in sexual acts with McLaughlin who became obsessed with him and gave him expensive clothing, money and promised to get him into a Sydney drama school, the documents revealed.
He alleged the sexual acts occurred between him and McLaughlin at Brisbane motels and at the Christian Brothers-owned holiday home on the Gold Coast. He was not a Nudgee College student.
As a result of the alleged interactions as a 15-year-old with the then 44-year-old McLaughlin, the complainant claimed he suffered loss, damage and injuries and may require specialist counselling and other therapy.
Mr Deed confirmed that in early May 2017 the Christian Brothers were involved in negotiations to discuss a settlement to the claim.
On July 9, 2017, both parties agreed to a six-figure settlement.
The complainant also received an apology dated August 2017 from the Christian Brothers Oceania's professional standards executive officer Shane Wall, who said the sexual and other abuses the boy allegedly suffered were "appalling".
The Christian Brothers also provided the complainant with a statement dated August 10, 2017, saying McLaughlin had retired from the ministry and held no current position involving the supervision of children or minors.
"There is no intention by either Br McLaughlin or the Christian Brothers that he return to any ministry position involving children and or minors,'' the statement from Mr Wall said.
McLaughlin allowed back on school grounds
The complainant, who asked not to be name, said he was shocked to learn McLaughlin had been at the party.
"I'm very concerned that somebody who is at risk of sexually abusing children is allowed back on school grounds. Does he still have a blue card?'' he said.
A photo of McLaughlin at the party was published in the school's Nth Degree magazine in July, 2017.
In the picture he is seen posing with other former headmasters of the college including retired District Court Judge Brian Boulton. The ABC does not suggest Judge Boulton, who retired in 2004, or any of the other attendees, had knowledge of McLaughlin's alleged offending.
At the time of McLaughlin attending the party at Nudgee College in 2017, he was also under investigation by police over unrelated child abuse complaints involving an incident at his Brisbane home in 2015.
The abuse occurred when McLaughlin babysat a boy, then aged 12, whose father he had befriended. The boy reported the abuse to his mother that same year sparking a police investigation.
In March this year, in the Brisbane District Court, McLaughlin was convicted on two counts of indecent dealing in relation to the 2015 case.
Judge Anthony Rafter sentenced McLaughlin to two years in jail but suspended the sentence on the grounds of the now former Brother's ill health.
But McLaughlin’s lawyers said while their client was currently battling serious, life-threatening health issues, he was taking legal action to mount an appeal.
They said he believed he was the victim of a serious miscarriage of justice and intended to take whatever action was necessary to restore his good name and reputation.
College devastated to learn of allegations
A spokesman for Nudgee College said due to separation between the college and the Brothers, they were not aware of any discussions in 2017 related to claims made against McLaughlin.
"These discussions were carried out without input from the college,'' a spokesperson said.
The spokesman said the Christian Brothers' leadership team had not had any governance or executive role over the schools since 2007, when Edmund Rice Education Australia was established to take responsibility including governance of all schools run by the Brothers.
He said the college's past mothers' association had held a birthday party for a former long-term staff member in May 2017 to which McLaughlin had been invited.
"Students attended a brief ceremony to welcome the guest of honour but did not attend the function at which McLaughlin was present,'' he said.
"Our staff follow strict protocols around child protection with their focus on student wellbeing."
The college said it was devastated to learn of the allegations made by the alleged victims and acknowledged their bravery and courage in coming forward.
The statement said that since 2007, the college had been governed by Edmund Rice Education Australia.
An ABC investigation into McLaughlin has raised questions about his access to children and the Brother's and state government's handling of child abuse allegations.
In 1996, he boasted of personally foster caring for dozens of wards of the state and other disadvantaged children via an arrangement with Nudgee College and the state government.
The Queensland Children and Youth Justice Department confirmed that while McLaughlin was "not formally assessed as a foster carer" he had been treated as one and was assigned "some caring responsibilities".
A spokesperson also said the Families Department had "given permission" for him to care for children away from the school.
She said the department had an established relationship with McLaughlin as a direct result of his role as principal at Nudgee College.
"Departmental records indicate Brother McLaughlin offered a range of scholarship and supports to vulnerable children and their families, some of whom were in the care of the department at the time,'' she said.
The Christian Brothers have established an independent inquiry into issues associated with McLaughlin after the ABC put questions to the order about the allegations.
Brisbane barrister Troy Spence has been appointed to conduct the inquiry.