Victims bring ex-Brother Brian Cairns to justice, again

By a Broken Rites researcher

Brian Dennis Cairns was originally a Christian Brother. Later he worked as a lay teacher ("Mister" Cairns) in Catholic schools in Queensland. In 1985 he was jailed for sex-crimes against boys. Since then, more of his former male pupils have contacted Broken Rites, and therefore Broken Rites arranged for each of these victims to have a private chat with detectives in the Queensland Police. Brian Cairns pleaded guilty regarding all these additional victims and on 13 January 2014 he was jailed again.

Broken Rites research

Broken Rites has ascertained that, in the early 1970s, Brother Brian Cairns taught primary students at Catholic schools in Queensland, including:

  • St Laurence's College, which was a boys-only school, in South Brisbane; and
  • St Columban's College, which was a boys-only school, in Albion, Brisbane.

About the end of 1974 (aged 33), Brother Cairns left his religious order and became a lay teacher.

He then worked (as Mister Cairns) at:

  • Iona College (at Lindum, Brisbane) until 1977 (this was a boys-only school, for Year 5 upwards, conducted by the Oblate Fathers); and
  • St John Vianney parish primary school (at Manly, Brisbane), from 1978 until the early 1980s. Here he was the principal. This school was for boys and girls for Years 1 to 7.

By the early 1980s, some (but not all) of Cairns’s victims spoke to the Queensland Police, relating incidents that had happened over a number of years.

Charged in 1984

In April 1984 Brian Dennis Cairns was charged with sexual offences against 12 male pupils aged between 10 and 12 years.

Before the case reached the Brisbane District Court, a group of parents from one of Cairns’s schools asked Queensland‘s Minister for Justice to restrict publication of the court proceedings. This request was unnecessary. The then Justice Minister, Mr Harper, pointed out that, in accordance with established practice in child-abuse cases, child-abuse victims would not be publicly identified. However, he said, there would be no restriction on publishing the name of the perpetrator.

Jailed in 1985

In the Brisbane District Court in May 1985, after a three-week jury trial, Brian Dennis Cairns (aged 43) was found guilty of three counts of attempted sodomy, eight counts of gross indecency and 32 counts of indecent treatment of schoolboys. The offences extended over several years, including when Cairns was headmaster.

Judge Kimmins said that the maximum penalty for attempted sodomy was seven years imprisonment. He sentenced Cairns to seven years jail on each of the attempted sodomy charges, three years on each of the gross indecency charges and five years on each of the indecent treatment charges, to be served concurrently. With remissions, he served four and a half years in jail.

In his sentencing remarks, the judge said: "Parents are required by law to send children to school. They are thus forced to hand over their children into the care of others for a substantial portion of each year in the child’s life.

"There is thus a high duty on all education bodies to exercise extreme vigilance, to see that no person of abnormal sexual inclination is in a position to deal with, interfere with, or perhaps pervert the children under his or her control."

To protect the privacy of the children, Judge Kimmins prohibited publication of the evidence. He also prohibited publication of submissions by the barristers who appeared for the prosecution and the defence.

However, as allowed by law, the name of Brian Dennis Cairns appeared in media reports of the case, published the next day.

More details

Victims have told Broken Rites that Brian Cairns used to be friendly and polite towards the parents, who probably did not suspect what was going on behind the scenes. Victims tended to remain silent, because of embarrassment or because they were frightened of Brian Cairns or because their parents were "loyal" Catholics.

One ex-pupil (from St Laurence’s College in 1971) has told Broken Rites that he complained about Brother Cairns to his mother but she did not understand that such a serious thing could happen in a Catholic school and therefore she did nothing about it.

Another ex-pupil (from St Columban’s, Albion, in 1972) has told Broken Rites: “I was too scared and humiliated to ever speak out about this. My parents would never have believed me.”

At St John Vianney’s school, in Brisbane's Manly, where he was the principal in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cairns had supreme authority in the school.

Jailed again in 2014

As well as the victims who helped police in the 1985 criminal court case, more of Brian Cairns's former pupils have contacted Broken Rites in 2011 and 2012. Broken Rites told each of these victims that they are entitled to have a private interview with detectives from the Child and Sexual Assault Investigation Unit of the Queensland Police (the telephone number of this unit is 07-33646430). Most of the Broken Rites victims seized this opportunity. The detectives also found other victims of Brian Cairns.

In 2013, the detectives charged Cairns with 44 additional offences, committed against 18 boys who were aged between eight and 13. The offences included two counts of sodomy, plus multiple counts of indecent treatment of children and indecent dealing with children.  He preyed on these boys during camping trips, at his home, in the classroom and at a wedding.

The prosecutors handed the victims' police statements to the court in a written file. Brian Cairns pleaded guilty to all charges. The victims did not need to give evidence in court.

In a pre-sentence submission, Prosecutor Belinda Merrin said that Brian Cairns systemically abused 18 boys over nine years by fondling them and forcing them to perform degrading sex acts on him or on each other.

He plied the boys with alcohol and cigarettes and used threats to keep them silent.

"He embarked on a persistent course of conduct and abused those positions of trust for his own sexual gratification," Ms Merrin said.

"Instead of nurturing and educating young boys placed in his care and control, he blatantly contrived situations in which he could corrupt and abuse them."

Brian Cairns' barrister said his elderly client's health was failing and there should be a non-jail sentence.

The judge, however, said that a jail term is warranted because of the seriousness of the offences.

For these additional victims, the Brisbane District Court on 13 January 2014 gave Brian Cairns (aged 72) a sentence of five years jail and, taking into account his previous time (four and a half years) in jail, the January 2014 sentence requires him to serve nine months behind bars, with the remainder suspended.

Media coverage

Although Brian Cairns's victims were not required to attend court, several of the victims chose to attend the sentencing, in order to see justice done.

Before the sentencing day, one of these victims alerted Brisbane's media newsrooms about the case. The Nine Network TV News arranged for this victim to stand outside the court before the sentencing, helping a Nine TV News camera crew to identify Brian Cairns as he arrived at the court building. This enabled Nine TV News to obtain some film footage of Brian Cairns for that evening's Queensland TV news bulletin. Obviously, it was best to obtain this footage BEFORE Cairns entered the court building, because he would be leaving by a BACK door, in a prison van.

Civil action

Some of Cairns’s victims (from four of his schools) have approached Broken Rites (separately), seeking advice about claiming compensation from the Brisbane Catholic Archdiocese (and its insurance company) for the damage done by the church's negligence in inflicting Brian Dennis Cairns on children. A prominent legal firm, which acts for victims throughout Australia, is now considering what can be done in this matter.