Knox Grammar had a culture of covering up sexual abuse, royal commission told
Widespread child sexual abuse at the prestigious private boys school Knox Grammar was covered up for decades because the school was more concerned about its reputation than the welfare of students, a royal commission has been told.
On the first day of the public hearing into how the school dealt with sexual abuse allegations,fresh claims were made against three former staff members. A further five former staff members have already been convicted of multiple sexual offences against students.
Former assistant headmaster John Rentoul wept as he told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about the discovery his son, David, was molested by Knox music teacher Barrie Stewart in the late 1970s.
Mr Stewart, along with other teachers, continued to work at the school despite numerous claims about inappropriate behaviour with students.
“As a former headmaster myself, it seems extraordinary and reprehensible that these men continued to teach at Knox and abuse students,” said Dr Rentoul, whose son died at the age of 44.
“I believe the school was more interested in protecting the reputation of Knox than ensuring the safety and welfare of its students.”
A former student, given the pseudonym ARY, told the commission Mr Stewart was notorious for groping students at the Wahroonga school.
“Often in passing in the hallways he would grab a boy’s genitals,” ARY said. “This happened so casually it was like a handshake.”
Mr Stewart later received a suspended sentence for the offences.
ARY was 14 when he was first molested by teacher Roger James, who was later convicted.
He did not complain about the abuse at the time because of the culture of cover-up at the school, he told the commission.
Boys who did speak up were “victimised and ostracised,” he said. “They were seen as weak and they became everybody’s bitch.”
A former student given the pseudonym ATQ told the commission he was groomed and abused by a housemaster when he was 16. When he told another housemaster that Knox was a “paedophile ring”, he was told, “you can’t say that”.
Former student Adrian Steer told the commission he gave a statement about the abuse he endured to the school’s internal investigator in 2004 but no action was taken.
Another former student, Guy Lamond, was only 12 in 1986 when teacher Craig Treloar abused him and showed him pornographic videos featuring underage sex. His complaint to the police in 2009 precipitated the convictions of five teachers.
The commission heard that Ian Paterson✓, headmaster of the school between 1969 and 1998, was made aware of allegations of sexual abuse but there is no evidence he contacted the police. Dr Paterson is a witness at the commission.
The royal commission is examining how the Uniting Church school responded to sex abuse claims between 1970 and 2012.
In his opening address, counsel assisting the commission David Lloyd said the school did not report allegations to the police for decades.
The school issued an apology for its failings in a statement read by its lawyer, Geoffrey Watson SC.
“The school owed a primary responsibility to those students and those parents to keep them safe from this sort of thing and the school failed to discharge that responsibility,” he said.
The hearing before Justice Jennifer Coate continues.