Nursing allegations for drowned son

Cherina and Rob Gray’s horror had only just begun when their son Dean died in a tragic drowning accident in late 2021 while camping with friends by the Namoi River.

When Cherina searched Dean’s phone after his death, she found thousands of text messages revealing that her son had been cared for by a teacher while he was still at school.

“Can you imagine what it’s like for a mother to read?” said Cherina from her home in Narrabri. “I didn’t want to read through it – but I wanted to know what it said.

“This isn’t just about a little boy having an affair with a teacher; This is definitely manipulation and abuse — abuse of power committed by someone in the most heinous manner.”

Dean Gray in a photo provided by his family.

Dean Gray in a photo provided by his family.Credit:

An investigation by NBN News and The Sydney Morning Herald May reveal the teacher at the center of the allegations was promoted at another school before being given duties without access to children after the Grays filed a complaint with the Department of Education.

The teacher’s text messages began during school vacations in April 2013, when Dean was 17. Her first message was about a school test and praised Dean, who was in 12th grade, for his results.

But the conversation gradually changed.

“It’s becoming more and more regular. They communicate a lot every day and it’s only done in subtle ways in the form of a little kiss, a little heart, or a wink and the like,” Cherina said.

Dean Gray with his mother Cherina.

Dean Gray with his mother Cherina.Credit:

The teacher, whose name cannot be released for legal reasons, acknowledged the age difference and said: “49-year-olds don’t walk around and fall in love.” [sic] with 17 year olds. Totally confused.”

When Dean turned 18, he left school to attend TAFE and met his first girlfriend, Caitlyn Butler.

Butler is in no doubt as to what happened between Dean and one of his teachers.

“She twisted him and made him feel like he mattered, to get to him, and she put him on a pedestal and made him feel like what she did to him was okay,” Butler said.

Butler has spoken out about what she calls a terrible secret that is well known in the community.

Caitlyn Butler has opened up for the first time about what her boyfriend Dean Gray told her about the relationship with his teacher.

Caitlyn Butler has opened up for the first time about what her boyfriend Dean Gray told her about the relationship with his teacher.Credit:

Dean spoke of being intimate with the teacher during a game of “Truth or Dare,” Butler said.

“He said, ‘I slept with one of my school teachers,’ and the whole room went quiet,” Butler said.

She had no doubt that online texting turned into real-life sexual encounters.

“Dean was young, he couldn’t tell right from wrong. It was more like, “How cool is that?” “I’m banging my teacher,” Butler said.

The news reveals that Dean and his teacher have been discussing personal life events and have been making plans to meet up. The teacher even offered Dean special access to the school gym so he could work out.

The teacher commented on Dean’s interactions with other students.

“Well it’s no surprise to me that all the girls would like you. I’m so jealous – they can just call you [sic] And come over,” wrote the teacher.

Dean replied, “I have no interest in them.”

“I love you so much,” said the teacher.

“Your [sic] my girl,” Dean replied.

“Yes, I am,” the teacher replied.

They discussed nicknames and the teacher suggested that Dean should be “badass”. Dean suggested her name should be ‘Miss’, after which the teacher conceded the inappropriateness of the contact: ‘But don’t you think that makes me sound a bit pedophile? [sic].”

After making plans to meet, they discussed being together. “Marry me,” Dean wrote.

“OK. When I get out of jail for corrupting you,” the teacher replied.

The lyrics continued until someone claiming to be the teacher’s husband wrote a lengthy message to Dean.

“Don’t you dare speak to my wife again, let alone put your dirty little hands on her body. I know what happened,” said the person posing as the teacher’s husband.

Insufficient Admissible Evidence

The Grays first reported the allegations to police and the Department of Education in 2016 after a family member disclosed the abuse based on Dean’s atypical behavior.

The Department of Education’s Professional and Ethical Standards (PES) division launched an investigation that was closed due to “insufficient evidence”.

The teacher has since been promoted at another area high school — and even attended public events to speak about the importance of the health and safety of the children she serves.

But in late 2021, tragedy struck the Gray family. Dean drowned in the Namoi River while on a camping trip with friends.

Dean’s body was found after a five-day search by police divers, SES, family and friends.

“It was just absolutely heartbreaking,” said Cherina.

Dean’s father Rob can hardly talk about that day. He was searching the riverbank with his daughter when they pulled Dean’s body out of the river.

“Can you imagine the impact it would have on them if they saw that?” said Cherina.

DeanGray.

DeanGray.Credit:

In the months after his death, in her grief, Cherina began scrolling through text messages on her son’s phone and made the discovery that haunts her to this day.

She spent nearly 24 hours perusing the news in horror; Take screenshots of each message to make sure they don’t disappear.

Armed with folders full of materials, she returned to the Ministry of Education and the police.

Within 48 hours, the teacher was relieved of her attendance duties when a second Ministry of Education investigation began.

But the reaction of the police was not so quick.

“Three and a half months later, the police didn’t even come to get the evidence phone — that’s disgusting,” Cherina said. “We’re talking about someone who has access to children. There is no excuse for that.”

Rob Gray claimed a police officer told parents to be proud that their son had “done the cherry on the cake” with a teacher.

He said police stopped the family from investigating further because “their son is dead.”

Caitlyn Butler was surprised by the reaction when she tried to give evidence to police.

“It was like every answer I gave got a backlash, like he didn’t want to know,” Butler said.

Butler says police asked her if she thought Dean was affected.

“If as a mother I was sending my son to school and this happened to him, I would not agree. It is not normal for your child to be cared for in this way. It’s not normal,” Butler said.

NSW Police did not respond to questions about police handling of the family.

In a statement, police said the chief prosecutor said there was insufficient admissible evidence to bring charges.

The Ministry of Education, which had suspended its internal investigation until police closed the case, resumed its investigation in April.

The teacher at the center of the allegations is still employed by the department and has responsibilities that don’t involve dealing directly with children.

NBN News has reached out to the teacher and her husband for comment.

A letter from Parliamentary Education Secretary Greg Warren to Barwon MP Roy Butler said the investigation into sexual misconduct was in the “final stages”.

“Should the teacher be found to have committed any wrongdoing, appropriate action will be taken,” Warren wrote, making sure the family “is informed of the finding once it is finalized.”

Dean’s parents say they almost lost hope for justice.

“I think…we would have liked a criminal conviction, but we’re going to take the hits with the wins,” Cherina said.

“But if she can be named publicly so people know what she did and she is removed from her job, then that’s still a victory. That would be a victory for our son.”

As they await the outcome of the latest investigation, Cherina and Rob hold onto their youngest son’s memories.

“He just had a lively personality and was very funny. You would say something and he would make a joke about it. He loved his fitness and he loved his bikes and we adored him – we still adore him.”

Toni Ambrogetti is a reporter at NBN News in Newcastle.

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