SMH: Police Minister referred complaints about deputy principal 18 months before arrest

Police Minister David Elliott referred complaints about the inappropriate behaviour of a Sydney deputy principal to Education Minister Sarah Mitchell 18 months before the man was arrested for attempting to lure a 14-year-old girl for sex.

Letters obtained by the Herald reveal Mr Elliott, the MP for Baulkham Hills, wrote to Ms Mitchell in July last year because parents and teachers were concerned about Kellyville High deputy principal Damian Wanstall’s conduct, including allegations that he inappropriately touched staff and students.

He also raised Mr Wanstall’s treatment of an Indigenous student with Ms Mitchell a month later.

Despite Mr Elliott’s representations, Mr Wanstall, 47, remained at the school until he was stung by a police operation on Tuesday and charged with online child exploitation offences.

In a letter to Ms Mitchell on July 26 last year, Mr Elliott wrote: “I am advised that [then principal Justina Barnier] has failed to respond to alleged concerns relating to the inappropriate touching of staff and students by Deputy Principal, Damian Wanstall.

“This is in light of Mr Wanstall’s conduct being investigated by [the department’s employee performance and conduct directorate] on more than one occasion without any subsequent action being undertaken by Ms Barnier in the interim as is the case with other teachers at the school when being investigated.

“[One teacher] provided me with handwritten notes where she has recorded instances of inappropriate touching and comments made by Mr Wanstall … [Another teacher] has also experienced inappropriate touching by Mr Wanstall at her time at the school.”

Ms Mitchell’s office referred questions to the NSW Department of Education. A department spokesman said the allegations raised by teachers in Mr Elliott’s letter were sent to its employee performance and conduct directorate, which followed up with staff interviews.

“The interviews with staff resulted in the principal’s removal from duty and an ongoing investigation into the leadership of the school,” he said. “We are not able to comment on the interviews concerning the Deputy Principal as the matter is before the courts.” VideoPlay video1:45Sydney deputy principal charged over alleged child sex offences

An anonymous Crime Stoppers report was also made to NSW Police about Mr Wanstall’s conduct in 2018.

Department of Education secretary Mark Scott said police and the department investigated the allegation.

“We had taken that investigation seriously and there was no further action that we could take on that case,” he said.

“The department’s final decision on that was reviewed by the ombudsman… No further suggestions around concerns of child protection came forward.”

Mr Wanstall remained as deputy principal of Kellyville High until he was stood down following his arrest on Tuesday morning. He had worked at the school since 2012.

Relieving principal Mark Burnard told parents Mr Wanstall had been charged with “a number of criminal offences that are child related” in a letter on Tuesday.

“It is possible your son or daughter, or a child under your care was a student of the teacher,” Mr Burnard wrote.

“It is not suggested your child has been involved in matters currently before the court, however, if your child discloses they have been subject to or witnessed any potential offences committed by this person it is requested that you contact Castle Hill Police station.”

Former Kellyville High School students have said the school brushed off complaints made about Mr Wanstall’s conduct over years.

Multiple students, whom the Herald has not named to protect their identities, alleged Mr Wanstall would make inappropriate comments, such as calling them “hot” or “sexy”, request hugs or kisses on the cheek, and ask students to speak with him alone in his office, where he would shut the door.

One student said she complained to the principal in 2014 and was “shrugged off”. “I was told I wasn’t the first one to complain, which was of course very unsettling. The principal also told me ‘that’s just the way he is’. Nothing was done about it,” she said.

Mr Scott said that while no further child protection matters had been raised with the department, “there had been concerns about leadership at the school”.

“There is currently a relieving principal at the school because the substantive school principal has been put aside whilst further investigations take place,” he said.

The Department of Education’s employee performance and conduct directorate began investigating bullying complaints made against Ms Barnier earlier this year. She has been engaged in an offsite role at the department since term one.

In a second letter to Ms Mitchell sent on August 14, 2019, Mr Elliott cited the complaint of a parent whose son had been questioned by Mr Wanstall alone in his office about a matter of a sexual nature.

Mr Scott said he could not go into detail about Mr Wanstall’s conduct. “He has been charged with a criminal offence. We have to let the courts deal with that process appropriately then we’ll be in a position to say more,” Mr Scott said.

The education spokesperson said the department had been “appalled” by the allegations.

“We will continue to work closely with police during their investigation. We encourage any teacher or student to come forward to police if they have concerns,” he said.

“NSW Education is investigating the leadership at this school and we can assure parents that their students are our highest priority.”

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