This Christian Brother receives a second jail sentence after more victims come forward

  • By a Broken Rites researcher

Christian Brother Graeme James Down indecently touched young Catholic school boys in Western Australia in the 1980s. In 2007 he was jailed after some of those victims finally contacted the police. This news of this conviction prompted more of his victims to come forward and consequently in 2008 a court sentenced Down to spend additional time in jail.

Graeme James Down was known in the Christian Brothers as "Brother David Down".

At the time of his offences, he was teaching (as a Christian Brother) at St Mark's School in Bedford in Perth's inner north in the early 1980s (this school is now defunct). His victims were aged about 10 to 12 years. The offences occurred while Brother Down was in charge of the boys on school camps and in classrooms.

Down later taught at the Christian Brothers' Nulungu School (which has since become St Mary's College) at Broome in Western Australia's north.

Graeme Down left the Christian Brothers in 1999. He worked with Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region (in Western Australia's far north) and took up a position with Western Australia's Fire and Emergency Services Authority (FESA) at Kununurra, in the Kimberleys.

First jailing, 2007

As is common in church-abuse cases, Down's victims felt obliged not to report their abuse to the police for many years but some of his victims finally began contacting the police twenty years after the offences, when the victims were aged in their early thirties.

During 2005, Down (then aged 55) was summonsed to Kununurra Magistrates Court, charged with 14 counts of indecent dealings with children under 14 years. The charges were in relation to four boys who were 10 to 12 at the time. The prosecution alleged that the offences occurred between 1981 and 1983 when Down was a Christian Brother at Bedford. The offences were alleged to have taken place while Brother Down was in charge of the boys on school camps and in classrooms. The alleged offences occurred at Bedford and also at Bindoon and Dwellingup in Western Australia's south-west.

After the magistrate's proceedings, the Down case proceeded to a judge in a higher court, the Western Australia District Court in Perth, where Down eventually (on 22 January 2007) pleaded guilty to five charges of unlawfully and indecently touching three boys. However, he pleaded not guilty to a further seven charges, which alleged more serious offences against a fourth boy.

On 29 March 2007, Down was sentenced in relation to the three boys whom he admitted assaulting.

During pre-sentence submissions, prosecutor Caroline Brookes said that Brother Down abused the first of these victims (an 11-year-old boy) in the winter of 1981 after the child injured himself playing hockey. Luring the child into his manual arts block office, Brother Down got the boy to strip so he could "massage" the boy's thigh, Ms Brookes said. During this "massage", Down touched the boy's testicles "on a number of occasions", Ms Brookes said.

Brother Down repeated the "massage" in his office a week later, this time rubbing the boy's penis and testicles, she said.

She said the boy was also assaulted in a tent on a camping trip, during which Brother Down was the only adult, when the child woke to find Down holding his penis.

Ms Brookes said that Brother Down similarly assaulted two other boys, while on school camping trips.

Down's defence lawyer told the court that a complaint about Down had been "dealt with" by the Christian Brothers in 1984. Down sought "counseling" from a priest in Sydney and had "rehabilitated" himself, the lawyer said.

Judge Andrew Stavrianou told Down that his sexual offences were very serious and that his actions had a devastating impact on the three young men.

In sentencing, the judge took into account Down's guilty plea and the fact that he had not used any brutality on the boys. Down was sentenced to 30 months jail (eligible for parole after 15 months).

Second jailing, 2008

In July 2007, another Brother Down victim phoned Broken Rites. This victim then contacted the West Australian police sexual offences unit. Later, the police located a further victim of Brother Down.

Down pleaded guilty to both of these crimes and he appeared in the District Court on 24 October 24, 2008 for sentencing.

The court was told that Brother Down abused one of these victims during an unofficial weekend camp at which he was the only teacher. Down crept into the tent which his victim shared with three other boys, lay next to him, put his hand down the student's sleeping bag and fondled him before the boy rolled over the top of another child to get away.

A few weeks after molesting the student, Brother Down again sexually abused a different 10-year-old boy at a separate annual school camp.

The court was told that one family complained to the school and withdrew their son, prompting Down to seek counselling within the Christian Brothers community.

The other victim did not tell his parents about the sex abuse until 2007.

Down's defence lawyer told the court that Down had become eligible to be considered for parole during 2008 in relation to his previous sentence but the fresh charges meant he had not been able to complete the sex offender's treatment program, which would have been required before he could be released.

The lawyer said that Down had a very "religious" upbringing, and had wanted to be a Christian Brother since the age of seven.

The lawyer said that some of the counselling sought by Brother Down at the time of the crimes had turned out to be "from a Jesuit priest in which he [Brother Down] really went through a process of confessing and facing his sins, rather than counselling in a psychological sense".

The prosecutor told the court that Down had "exploited the complainants' youth, naivety, inexperience with life, and their vulnerability".

"They were very young boys, who should have looked to the offender as a role model, and as a person who should have kept them from harm's way whilst they were away from their parents, rather than one who ultimately put them at peril to satisfy his own needs," the prosecutor said.

One of the victims claimed that the abuse had a devastating and life-long impact on him, the prosecutor said.

In sentencing Down, Judge Troy Sweeney said that, despite a large amount of time passing, Down deserved additional punishment for the additional crimes.

Down was sentenced to six months jail on the first charge and four months on the second. The total of 10 months jail was to be served on top of Down's previous 30-months term. He would still be eligible for parole.

The maximum penalty for indecent dealing, according to West Australian law at the time the crimes were committed, is seven years jail.