Rae Wilson

'Unfair' treatment a factor in ex-school prinicipal's death

THE "unfair" way former Burpengary Primary School deputy principal Gavin Woods was treated over missing chocolate money and excessive internet use would have contributed to his subsequent suicide, a coroner has found.

Coroner John Lock said the formal process adopted to deal with the accusations was totally unnecessary and "bordering on oppressive given the minor and unsubstantiated nature of the issues".

Mr Lock, in findings handed down this week, said the Education Department's North Coast region, though, did not know about Mr Woods' mental health history or the likely impact the events would have on his vulnerabilities.

"The situation in which Mr Woods' found himself at Burpengary was a significant contributor to the deterioration in Mr Woods' mental health," he said.

Mr Lock said then principal Paula Passi, after speaking to Mr Wood's former principal in the Cairns region, made a decision Mr Woods was not capable of doing the job.

Mr Woods had made bullying allegations against that Cairns principal and it was part of the reason he sought a transfer to south-east Queensland.

While there was no compelling evidence Ms Passi was ever offensive, threatening or abusive, Mr Lock said he strongly suspected Mr Woods felt intimidated.

"Being brought to task in a formal manner on these minor issues, particularly questioning a person's honesty and integrity, would have intimidated most people," he said.

"Mr Woods rightly concluded he was being treated differently from other staff and in my view that is an inevitable objective conclusion and not simply a subjective perception on his part."

Mr Lock said although Ms Passi could not have known Mr Woods mental health background, "it should not have happened to anyone, vulnerable or not".

He found that Mr Woods committed suicide at a Wamuran property in June, 2011, as a result of suffering a major depressive disorder for almost 10 years.

Mr Lock said Mr Woods was taking ineffective antidepressant medication which had not been monitored for six months.

He also attributed the death to other factors such as financial conflicts with his partner after moving from far north Queensland to the Sunshine Coast, and the issues at his new school.

Mr Woods' partner, Andrea Malfliet, sought a recommendation for a Royal Commission to address workplace bullying within the department.

Coroner Lock said while the evidence "certainly suggests that behaviour of that nature may have emanated from Burpengary SS", there was no evidence before him that there was a systemic issue.

He did recommend, though, that the department should develop an appropriate policy surrounding information flow between job transfers across the whole of government, not just in education.

Mr Lock noted there were policy, legislative and privacy issues which made it complex to provide information about a person's medical, mental health and HR grievance and complaint history to others.

"Despite the complexities this should not deter a proper consideration of the issues as something should be done," he said.

"It does need to be considered at a highly placed policy development level. The extent of the level of consent by employees is but one issue."