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Marist College Ashgrove head Michael Newman returned at the beginning of Term 2. Picture" NCA Newswire

Brisbane principal returns to school amid sex abuse claims

Catholic school principal caught up in a civil sexual abuse claim professed his innocence to staff and students during an assembly address in a move described by some concerned parents as “outrageous” and “inappropriate”.

Parents and staff have spoken out following the decision to allow Marist College Ashgrove head Michael Newman to return while the civil case is ongoing after he spent Term 1 on leave, with the historical allegations only disclosed to the community on the eve of his return.

Multiple MCA parents and a current staff member spoke to The Courier-Mail on the condition of anonymity.

Parents have expressed concerns, and frustration that no further details have been given about the College’s independent process led by a Kings Counsel barrister that decided it was safe for Mr Newman to return.

One parent said the College had lost their trust, leaving them “horrified and angered”.

“I believe in the presumption of innocence, but I can’t wrap my head around it,” they said.

“We understand they are trying to be legal orientated with an independent risk assessment investigation led by a King’s Counsel.

“But why do we not have the name of the King’s Counsel? How was the process independent? What was the King’s Counsel’s assessment criteria?”

The College said it has been “open” and “transparent” with the community, and that any feedback provided has received a response.

Mr Newman is caught up in an ongoing civil damages claim filed in the NSW Supreme Court on January 8 this year.

This historical allegation was made against the Marist Brothers and relates to Mr Newman’s time on staff at St Joseph’s College Hunters Hill in Sydney in 1994.

Mr Newman and the Marist Brothers strongly deny the allegations, and are defending the suit. NSW Police are aware of the allegations, but decided not to launch a criminal investigation and no charges have been laid.

The Courier-Mail has also been told Mr Newman has lost the support of some College staff, despite Marist Schools Australia still publicly supporting him.

“He [Mr Newman] does not have the support of the staff,” a College employee said.

“I haven’t heard a single staff member react positively to Mr Newman’s return.”

The staffer said all employees had been told to not discuss the allegations with students.

“Students have tried to initiate conversations, they are not happy. But we’ve been told to refer any parent or student to the [Marist Schools Australia] letter,” he said.

The staff member said they had decided to speak “out of love for the College” and emphasised they were not trying to cause “chaos or anarchy”.

“We’ve had staff with 20-30 years’ service saying: ‘I just want to be heard’,” they said.

“The College is a big part of our lives and our happy place. I’ve got great memories of this school, but the fact is that they are being tarnished.”

Last week, during the first assembly of Term 2, Mr Newman raised the allegations and again denied them.

All staff and students were present, including junior students as young as 10.

“I think that is just outrageous. I know the boys discussed it later and they felt uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable,” another parent said.

“I think everybody is really concerned about exposing their sons to retribution [if they raise concerns with MCA or MSA].

“These are serious allegations … I really don’t agree with the way this situation has been handled and I do think, respectfully, that he [Mr Newman] should stand down.”

A College spokeswoman said the school has been transparent with the reasons for Mr Newman’s leave, and communicated child protection steps taken in deciding upon his return.

“This included immediate notification to NSW Police and Queensland College of Teachers, as well as the commission of an independent risk assessment investigation by a King’s Counsel which subsequently found it safe for the Head of College to return,” the spokeswoman said.

The College stressed that it has been independently found that it is safe for Mr Newman to perform his regular duties while the civil case is on foot.

“The College has been open with staff, students and the school community as shown in this week’s communications. Any feedback relayed to the school has received a response.

“Support measures, in line with current standards, have been flagged and made available.

“We restate our respect for the preservation of natural justice for all parties involved in the matter including respect for the person who made the complaint and respect for Mr Newman’s denial of the allegation.”

The spokeswoman said the College has, and continues to act, in full accordance with the National Catholic Safeguarding Standards, with emphasis on Standard 2 regarding child safety.

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