Inquest hears workplace bullying a factor in suicide

Wamuran's Andrea Mafliet, guidance officer at Woodford, with a photo of her partner Gavin Woods, who was deputy principal at Burpengary State School before taking his own life.
Wamuran's Andrea Mafliet, guidance officer at Woodford, with a photo of her partner Gavin Woods, who was deputy principal at Burpengary State School before taking his own life. Rae Wilson

A SUNSHINE Coast guidance councillor believes workplace bullying at two Queensland schools was a significant reason her partner took his life.

Andrea Malfliet told an inquest in Brisbane that she had feared for Gavin Woods' safety during his time as deputy principal at Whitfield State School in Cairns because he was struggling emotionally with perceived harassment from principal Tony Constance.

The trained psychologist broke down as she said she should have recognised the signs when he went into a downward spiral as deputy principal at Burpengary State School under then principal Paula Passi.

Mr Woods went missing in June, 2011, and his body was found in bushland at Wamuran two weeks later.

Ms Malfliet, who works at Woodford, said a letter accusing him of stealing chocolate money from the school and excessive internet use sent him over the edge.

"It was like a rug was pulled from under him," she said.

"He was called a thief and he couldn't explain it.

"Looking back now it was obviously getting worse.

"I think what happened is I'd become a bit complacent.

"We got through (Whitfield) ... and I thought "this will be the same".

"Because that had been an ongoing thing that had gradually built up, and this was so fast maybe I wasn't paying enough attention.

"I didn't believe Gavin was suicidal, that he couldn't be left by himself.

"I don't quite know how things could have gone downhill so fast and why Gavin ended his life when there were so many other options.

"I believe it all got too hard for Gavin, that he felt he'd let everybody down and that somehow we would be better off without him.

"Nothing could be further from the truth. But that dark place is not rational."

Coroner John Lock said the inquest investigation had identified systemic issues within Education Queensland but stated the hearing could not become an unlimited inquiry into bullying in the department.

Ms Malfliet said she believed phone conversations Ms Passi had with Mr Constance had clouded her view of him.

She said Mr Woods felt humiliated when he was demoted, given relief teacher duties and told he would go on an unsatisfactory performance program.

Ms Malfliet said he believed other staff members would stop talking when he entered the room.

"He felt no matter where he would go Tony would poison people's view of him," she said.

"I kept saying you're not going back to that school next term, that's not an option.

"I can't say I told him to see someone. I should of, and I wish I had."

Mr Constance told the court, via videolink from Cairns, that Ms Passi rang him because Mr Woods was struggling with curriculum knowledge, student behaviour management and was his internet use.

He said he too had curriculum issues and had tried to coach Mr Woods through those, as well as problems with him managing teacher aids properly.

But when Ms Passi allegedly questioned whether Mr Woods was "power-tripping" with students, Mr Constance said he had the opposite problem.

Mr Constance said Mr Woods would take too long trying to find the root of a child's misbehaviour and kept them out of class too long.

The hearing continues all week.

For support on suicide prevention, phone Lifeline on 13 11 14


Remembering Gavin

GAVIN Woods was a country bloke who loved the outdoors.

He lost his truck-driver dad when aged 13 and had an accident himself at age 20, spending year rehabilitating from spinal injuries.

At age 29, he went back to school so he could realise a teaching career he dreamed about.

He graduated in 1999 with the Griffith University excellence award.

While teaching in Far North Queensland at age 35, he met his partner Andrea Malfliet.

She described him as a romantic, who always remembered anniversaries, and someone she shared many memories with, including ballroom dancing and squash.

Ms Malfliet said he had a playful nature but was an intelligent, hard-working man with exceptional social skills.

"Gavin was a doer and continually made a difference with students," she said.

"At home was a man of integrity with standards and expectations.

"Bad manners were never acceptable.

"He would often say what goes around comes around.

"That philosophy reflects how he lived his life.

"Gavin treated others how he liked to be treated.

"However behind the joking, extraverted Gavin, there was sensitive Gavin who was very hard on himself and deliberated every day about the decisions he had to make and if he could have done things differently to achieve a different outcome."

Topics:  burpengary state school harassment suicide workplace bullying

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