Child sex abuse inquiry: Abuse by Knox Grammar paedophile teacher led to student’s death, father says
The elderly father of a former Knox Grammar student has told an inquiry into alleged sexual abuse at the school that his adult son died as a result of trauma inflicted by paedophile teacher Barrie Stewart.
Dr John Rentoul, 80, a former assistant principal at the elite boys’ school in Sydney’s north, told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse he worked with three of the five former Knox teachers who were later convicted of abusing students over a 33-year period.
Dr Rentoul said his son, David, found his abuser’s criminal trial difficult and that he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
Stewart received a suspended sentence on charges including indecent and sexual assault.
The inquiry has been told that of the five Knox teachers convicted of offences against boys as young as six at the school only one, Craig Treloar, received a jail sentence – four and a half years.
“The news that Stewart received a suspended two-year sentence, rather than a custodial sentence, was devastating to David, to us, and as I understand to other victims and their families,” Dr Rentoul said.
“I absolutely believe that the extreme guilt, stress and shame David suffered as a result of the abuse directly led to his health issues.
“It is very clear to me that the sexual abuse suffered by David at Knox impacted him for the rest of his life and resulted in his premature death.”
I believe the school was more interested in protecting the reputation of Knox than ensuring the safety and welfare of its students.
Dr John Rentoul, father of abuse victim
David Rentoul died in 2012, at age 44, after a serious lung infection.
“As a former headmaster myself, it seems extraordinary and reprehensible that these men continued to teach at Knox and abuse students,” Dr Rentoul told the inquiry.
“I believe the school was more interested in protecting the reputation of Knox than ensuring the safety and welfare of its students.”
In his opening statement to the commission, counsel assisting David Lloyd said the inquiry would hear evidence that several former students approached police in 2009 and said they were sexually abused at the school, located at Wahroonga on Sydney’s upper north shore.
“The abuse was perpetrated by these teachers between approximately 1970 and the year 2003 – a 33-year period,” Mr Lloyd said.
“It is anticipated that the evidence will show that during that period the school did not notify the police of any incident of child sexual abuse.”
Boys forced to perform oral sex, watch porn
Earlier, the commission heard from a former student of the Uniting Church-run school who said he was repeatedly assaulted by a teacher in the late 1970s.
The man known as A-R-Y said he was too scared to come forward at the time because the independent boys’ school had a culture of “blaming the victim”.
A-R-Y told the Sydney hearing a teacher openly groped students – and that must have been obvious to other teachers and then-principal Ian Paterson, who was the school’s headmaster from 1969 to 1998.
“I can not believe that Paterson and other long-term staff had no idea that sexual abuse was happening at Knox,” he said.
“But the culture of the school meant that any teacher who suspected inappropriate conduct would never speak up.
“Everyone was expected to keep up the reputation of Knox.”
The inquiry has heard abuse by former teachers and boarding house masters included boys as young as six being fondled, masturbated, forced to perform oral sex and watch pornographic videos.
One child was also photographed and filmed in an explicit video inside a teacher’s office, the inquiry heard.
Headmaster retained teacher targeting young boys
Mr Lloyd said Dr Paterson was given a report around 1986 by teacher and former police officer Stuart Pearson revealing serious allegations about Adrian Nisbett, who was later convicted of sexual assault.
The hearing will focus on their response to that knowledge and whether there was or is a culture at Knox which does not treat the issue of child abuse seriously.
Counsel assisting David Lloyd
The report found that Mr Nisbett was targeting young boys who were good at sport and recommended that he be removed from the boarding house.
“That report has gone missing, without explanation,” Mr Lloyd said.
“This hearing will examine how and why these and other critical documents have gone missing, whether they were deliberately destroyed in order to eliminate evidence which might adversely affect the school, and who from the school might have been involved.”
Nisbett was removed from the boarding house, but stayed on as an assistant to the headmaster until 1999.
“What information was known by employees of Knox and members of the Knox council about the abuse by the teachers?” Mr Lloyd asked.
“The hearing will focus on their response to that knowledge and whether there was or is a culture at Knox which does not treat the issue of child abuse seriously.”
The files of a number of students and parents who complained about abuse also disappeared, the commission heard.
Knox apologises for failing to protect students
Counsel for Knox Grammar Geoffrey Watson SC earlier delivered an apology on behalf of the school for failing to protect its students from sexual abuse by teachers, members of what one student described as a paedophile ring.
“The school humbly and sincerely apologises for its failure,” Mr Watson told the inquiry.
The school owed a primary responsibility to those students and to those parents to keep them safe from this sort of thing.
Geoffrey Watson SC, acting for Knox Grammar
“It apologises to all of those students who are damaged by these events.
“It apologises to the parents of those students and to the other members of their families.”
Mr Watson said the school welcomed the royal commission and that “it’s important the truth emerges”.
“There’s no excuse,” he said.
“The school owed a primary responsibility to those students and to those parents to keep them safe from this sort of thing.”
Several witnesses were expected to tell the commission that when they were still in primary school, the teachers would grope them in the playground.
Some of the teachers in question would socialise with each other in the boarding house, but also invite boys to their rooms, and even to homes they had away from the school.
Evidence would be presented about three other former teachers of the school who have not faced criminal proceedings.
Students made complaints, the commission heard, but senior administrators at the school who knew of the abuse did nothing.
Former prime ministers and prominent actors, including Hugh Jackman, attended the school, as did veteran broadcaster John Laws, former editor of the satirical Oz magazine Richard Neville, ethicist Simon Longstaff and former Macquarie Bank chairman David Clarke.