A HOSTEL warden accused of ordering boys to strip to their underwear and "wrestle" him – in what has been described as simulating sex - did not deny the allegation when confronted, the then-chair of the hostel board has told a special inquiry.
Bishop Michael Challen said he immediately "invited" Roy Wenlock to resign but did not report the matter to police because the student who complained had asked for confidentiality.
"Reporting wasn't required then ... and the parents asked me specifically not to report it on behalf of the boy," Bishop Challen said.
He denied knowing the "wrestling" had a sexual context and defended his decision not to tell police or sack Mr Wenlock.
"The less hurt for me the better ... [sacking someone] is an uncomfortable thing to do," he said.
"I wasn't protecting the hostel.
"I thought it was a better thing for [Mr Wenlock] – at least if he goes for another job he can say he wasn't dismissed."
The inquiry is examining actual and alleged sexual abuse at several state-run hostels in WA.
It has heard extensive evidence in relation to Dennis John McKenna's offending at St Andrew's Hostel in Katanning between 1975 and 1991.
McKenna is serving his second jail term and is facing 66 new charges in relation to an additional 16 students.
The inquiry is now focusing on the former St Christopher's hostel in Northam, where Mr Wenlock was warden between 1963 and 1977.
Numerous former students have described their "terror" at being invited to Mr Wenlock's private flat at the hostel and asked to strip to their underwear and straddle him while he lay on the floor. The warden would buck in a movement that simulated sex.
He also watched boys during their daily showers and liberally used the cane to discipline, despite the practice no longer being allowed in schools.
The inquiry has been told the "wrestling" sessions were common knowledge among the students, although many have given evidence they were too scared to complaint to an adult.
Bishop Challen told the inquiry he acted as soon as he was made aware of the inappropriate behaviour. He said that was in December 1977 when the local MP Ken McIver raised the matter with him.
However, counsel assisting the inquiry Phil Urquhart said Bishop Challen's evidence was inconsistent with other witnesses.
Previous witnesses have given evidence that Bishop Challen knew of the allegations as much as 12 months earlier.
Ted Thompson said he confided in a friend, Brett McIver, about his wrestling sessions with Mr Wenlock in 1976.
That information was passed onto Brett's father, local MP Ken McIver, who organised a meeting with him and a clergyman, whose name he could not remember.
Bishop Challen denied being that clergyman.
Another former student, known only as "T", told the inquiry that in 1976 the "bishop who was chair of the hostel board" ordered Mr Wenlock to stop having students in his flat unsupervised.
Bishop Challen denied giving the warden a warning despite saying he had "a soft spot" for Mr Wenlock's future.
A woman also said in 1976 she overheard her late father having a discussion with a church minister in Northam about Mr Wenlock's "dealing with boys" and the clergyman said he had to be moved.
Bishop Challen said he did not recall such a conversation.
Former principal of Northam Senior High School, Claude John Riordan, also told the inquiry he told Bishop Challen towards the end of 1976 that there may be some "concerning" behaviour by Mr Wenlock.
"Bishop Challen told me 'we are aware of the situation and we have it in hand'," Mr Riordan, who is now 84, said in a statement to the inquiry.
Bishop Challen said it was possible he had been mis-identified.
"Nobody spoke to me about Wenlock's behaviour in '76," he said.
The inquiry heard following Mr Wenlock's departure, Bishop Challen wrote a letter to the Anglican synod praising the warden's work.
"[Mr Wenlock] served the hostel with enthusiasm, determination and dedication for the past 13 years," the letter says.
"His imaginative administration had brought numerous improvements to St Christopher's. We wish him well in his future work."
Mr Wenlock went on to work as a development officer at the West Australian Cricket Association.
He died in 2007, aged 75. No charges were ever laid against him.
The Bishop said he made his decision that Mr Wenlock must resign without consulting the rest of the hostel board.
"The fewer people who knew at that time the better," he said. "Especially, well, I did have a little bit of a soft spot for Roy's future."
When Bishop Challen did inform the board he said they confided that they knew of rumours about Mr Wenlock's inappropriate behaviour. No one had investigated.
The inquiry continues.