A Christian Brother is jailed at age 84, on a charge from 50-plus years ago

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article posted 4 May 2018

According to Broken Rites research, Christian Brother Brian Hamilton (also known as "Brother J.E. Hamilton") has had a long career teaching boys in Catholic schools in four states — Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. On 4 May 2018, at the age of 84, he was jailed In Western Australia regarding child sexual-abuse committed at one school in W.A. more than 50 years ago.

According to official documents, James Brian Hamilton was born on 30 April 1934. He joined the Christian Brothers in his teens and began teaching in Sydney's Burwood in 1953. Next, he taught in Queensland, followed by Kalgoorlie and Albany in Western Australia and Geelong in Victoria. In the late 1980s he taught at Melbourne's Parade College before retiring in the early 1990s. In recent years he has been living at a Christian Brothers residence in Victoria.

In the Christian Brothers, it was once common for Brothers to be given a new middle forename and therefore Brother James Brian Hamilton became listed in various official documents as "James Eustace Brian Hamilton" and he signed pupils' reports as "Brother J.E. Hamilton". More recently, he is known simply as Brother Brian Hamilton.

Court proceedings

In the West Australian District Court in 2018, James Brian Hamilton was charged regarding incidents which allegedly occurred in 1964 when he was based at Christian Brothers College in Kalgoorlie. Hamilton pleaded guilty to a charge of indecently dealing with the student who was about 12 or 13 years old. Hamilton originally faced two charges but the prosecutors dropped one of these in a plea deal.

Hamilton was aged 29 or 30 at the time when he forced the boy into an army cadet store shed before tying his hands behind and back and assaulting him for up to 15 minutes. The boy yelled for help but no one came to his assistance, and after the abuse was over he told Hamilton: "This will never happen again".

The victim, who is now in his 60s, read his victim impact statement to the court, describing how the abuse had caused him "lifelong distress" and years of "sadness, pain and upset".

"I was tied up. My liberty was forcibly curtailed and I was detained for Hamilton's depraved indecencies to occur," he said.

"What an injustice, tying up a 13-year-old and then subjecting his victim to sexual abuse of the grossest kind."

The victim detailed how, over the following years, the Catholic Church refused to acknowledge or believe his complaints, at one point even threatening him with legal action.

"They made me feel insignificant and caused me great stress and pain … [they] have denied me honesty, justice or consideration."

The victim said he complained to police in the 1990s, but again nothing was done, and it was not until after the recent royal commission into child sexual abuse that Hamilton was charged.

Hamilton's lawyer urged Judge Laurie Levy to consider imposing a suspended jail term, arguing her client was a very old man with significant health problems, whose time in jail would be difficult because all of his family and supporters were in Melbourne where he had been living in a home for retired Christian Brothers.

However Judge Levy said the offence was too serious and an immediate jail term was the appropriate penalty.

Judge Levy said aggravating features of the offence included that Hamilton was a teacher and the victim was a student, that the boy was very vulnerable and that Hamilton had used a level of violence against him.

"He clearly suffered both physical and psychological abuse at your hands," the judge said.

Judge Levy took into account Hamilton's age, his ill health and his plea of guilty, in deciding to impose the two-and-a-half year term. Hamilton will have to serve 15 months before he can be released.

Comments by the victim

Outside the court, the victim told the ABC that he was pleased with the sentence and believed that, decades later, justice had finally been done.

"It was a long time ago that these events occurred but I personally believe that age should not be a factor," he said.

"If you do something wrong, and something terribly wrong then you have to be accountable for that."

"I think it also sends a very clear message to the Christian Brothers who really, as an organisation, have to get their act together."

The man said he had, in the past few days, received a letter of apology from Hamilton but it was "basically too little, too late".

He said he hoped that now Hamilton had been sentenced, some of the pain and suffering he was still suffering would be eased.

"I've got to enjoy the rest of my life and have some sort of peace, so I'm going to try really hard to make the most of enjoying my life."

"I will always be a strong advocate for protecting children from all harm, from physical harm as well as sexual harm," he told the ABC.