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Ex-PE teacher avoids jail for child abuse

Despite forcing herself on a student four decades ago on Sydney’s northern beaches, a former PE teacher will not spend any time in jail.

Lee Joyce Dunbar was convicted on Friday and sentenced to 18 months which will be served through an intensive corrections order in the community.

With her trial on the verge of starting last month, the now 69-year old ex-teacher pleaded guilty to one count of assaulting a female student and committing an act of indecency.

In handing down the sentence in Downing Centre District Court, Justice Pauline David found the conduct was objectively serious and that Dunbar had been reckless by kissing her student and putting her fingers inside her vagina without her consent.

In the late 1970s, Dunbar took an interest in the victim, who was under 18 and cannot be legally named, going to her home for afternoon tea and taking her out for milkshakes.

On one occasion, in early 1980, the PE teacher arrived unannounced where the victim was holidaying with her family on the NSW south coast. She dropped a teddy bear out of her car, telling the young student to return it at her Manly apartment.

When the bear was brought back, the pair went out for dinner and then returned to Dunbar’s apartment where the assault occurred.

The victim started crying and covered her eyes, although this was not noticed by Dunbar at the time.

“The victim got dressed and went home. She was in a state of shock and she cried but did not disclose what happened to anyone at that time,” Judge David said.

In 1983, the victim saw Dunbar in a car park with another student in school uniform. The teacher was charged in relation to this other girl in 1995, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 15 months’ jail.

In 2018 after listening to a podcast about the historical sexual misconduct of teachers in the northern beaches region, the victim went to police about her own assault.

In a 2019 phone call recorded by police, Dunbar admitted her conduct and apologised.

“You believe you were wrong?” the victim asked.

“Absolutely,” Dunbar said.

Judge David found that the teacher had groomed her then student for years before forcing herself on her, saying this was a breach of trust in a place which was supposed to be safe, her home.

The judge also acknowledged the “profound impact” the incident had on the victim and its effect on her family life, career and marriage.

However, Dunbar managed to avoid further jail time after the judge found she had admitted her wrongdoing, had worked hard to reform herself in prison and the community and had engaged psychological help to prevent reoffending.

“She has openly and responsibly acknowledged her offending and the impact upon her victims,” the judge said.

Reforms, which were described as a self-inflicted penance, included helping inmates educate themselves while in jail and doing unpaid community work upon her release through her local church and gym.

“I do accept that the offender has lived a good and honest life which reflect her contrition for her past offending,” Judge David told the court.

In imposing an intensive corrections order, the judge said that returning Dunbar to prison a second time would be a disproportionate punishment.

The experience of being in custody twice was greater than what would have occurred if the offences for the two victims were heard together at the same time and one jail sentence was imposed, she noted.

Dunbar is now required to be of good behaviour and to report to the court and her local community corrections office as required.

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