Church community in shock over porn charge

By Frank Walker and Eamon Duff
October 3, 2004
The Sun-Herald

The owner of a Sydney private Christian school where a teacher has been charged with secretly filming students taking their clothes off spoke for the first time yesterday about his "devastation".

"I have been paraded about in front of people too," the owner said. "We are all victims in this."

Reverend Fred Nile, who suggested to the owner that he set up the small Christian school, said he was shocked and warned that the teacher might not have acted alone.

"Very seldom do these people act alone," he said. "They mostly operate in secret networks.

"You have to ask how this teacher was able to install this equipment. It is suspicious how he could get access to the building to have space for a hidden camera behind a mirror.

"Often these schools are built by voluntary labour. It is a possibility he didn't act alone."

Parents of the students are expected to come together today when they attend the regular Sunday church service inside the school.

Police have already questioned the owner, who is also the school's pastor, over whether the arrested teacher had acted alone.

At the small, tight-knit Christian school - which cannot be named for legal reasons - nerves were frayed and people could be seen consoling each other inside the building.

The phone at the school was constantly engaged as staff tried to make contact with holidaying families.

The owner emerged briefly from the school to tell The Sun-Herald of the effects the scandal had had on the community. Still clearly shaken, he said: "It has been very hard."

Police have been searching the school premises since mid-week and interviewing staff after they discovered the hidden camera.

Police discovered footage taken inside the school change rooms when they searched the teacher's home as part of the Australia-wide investigation of people accessing child pornography on the internet.

A court hearing where the teacher was denied bail on Friday was told that the teacher had installed the camera in April to photograph female students undressing for sport lessons.

The camera was hidden behind a mirror in the girls' change room.

The court suppressed the teacher's name and that of the school.

Counsellors from police and the Department of Community Services have been called in to help families cope.

Some parents have to be told their daughters were captured on the footage.

But the court was told the teacher did not put the images he made at the school onto the internet, nor was there any evidence students had been harmed.

Mr Nile told The Sun-Herald: "It's disgusting. This teacher could not be a genuine Christian if he is doing this, but has used his position to get access to unsuspecting children."

He said the purpose of the school was to promote Christian values and to live those strong family values by not being involved in any immoral behaviour. "Parents send their children to these schools to get away from things like pornography and homosexuality."

Mr Nile said Christian schools put their teachers through the same background inquiries as all employees in NSW who come into contact with children.

"Some Christian schools perhaps are a bit naive and more trusting than they should be. But those who engage in this behaviour are experts at covering their tracks.

"They are cunning and able to cover up their vile evil sickness from even their wives, children and employers."

Meanwhile, at the teacher's house 25 kilometres away, neighbours said the teacher and his family were very devoted Christians. A neighbour said three police cars had suddenly arrived on Thursday, and police were in the house for hours.

"We didn't understand what was going on as they are totally involved with the church and are very law- abiding citizens.

"I assumed they had a break-in."