Knox Grammar: elite school covered up sexual abuse for 30 years, inquiry hears
Knox Grammar school formally apologises after royal commission told allegations of sexual abuse of multiple young boys and teenagers were never reported to police
One of the accused perpertrators of abuse at Knox Grammar School, former teacher Barrie Stewart, leaves court in 2011 after being charged with four child-related sex offences dating back to 1984 and 1987.
One of the accused perpetrators of abuse at Knox Grammar School, former teacher Barrie Stewart, leaves court in 2011 after being charged with four child-related sex offences dating back to 1984 and 1987. Photograph: Tracey Nearmy/AAP
One of Sydney’s most prestigious private schools, Knox Grammar school, ignored and covered up sexual abuse of students for more than 30 years, the royal commission into child sexual abuse has heard.
Knox formally apologised on the first day of the hearing after allegations of sexual abuse of multiple young boys and teenagers were heard, including that they were fondled, masturbated and asked to perform oral sex on at least one teacher. Key documents regarding the abuse and kept by different headmasters have disappeared over the years with Knox unable to provide an explanation.
The school is also accused of not once reporting allegations of child abuse to New South Wales police despite numerous complaints.
After the allegations were detailed in the opening address of the hearing, counsel representing Knox Grammar school, Geoffrey Watson, offered an apology, the first one of the witnesses said he had heard.
“Some were young men and some were only boys [when the abuse occurred]. The damage has extended to families of the students. There is no excuse,” Watson said.
“The school had a primary responsibility to students and families to keep them safe from this sort of thing, the school failed. The school humbly apologises for the failure. Apologies to all students damaged by these events. Apologies to parents of these students and their families.”
Watson said the school acknowledged an apology could only go so far and the school has learned from the events, changing the way it is run and instituting “protective measures”.
Former Knox Grammar School teacher Damien Vance (centre) leaves court following sentencing in 2009. He was given a two-year good behaviour bond for sexual assault by inciting a 14-year-old boy to an indecent act in 1988. Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Former Knox Grammar school teacher Damien Vance (centre) leaves court following sentencing in 2009. He was given a two-year good behaviour bond for sexual assault by inciting a 14-year-old boy to an indecent act in 1988. Photograph: Paul Miller/AAP
In a break in the hearing, one of the witnesses told Guardian Australia it was the first time he had heard an apology.
John Rentoul, whose son David was abused at the school, wept as he recounted his son’s death which he said was a direct result of the abuse. David died from a series of illnesses exacerbated by anxiety and depression at the age of 44.
“I’m very angry and appalled by handling of sexual abuse allegations by Knox,” Rentoul, who taught at Knox between 1969 and 1980, said.
“It’s reprehensible that these men continued to teach at Knox. I believe Knox is more interested in protecting the reputation of Knox rather than ensuring welfare of students.”
Rentoul, who was friends with his son’s abuser, only found out about the abuse in 2009 when his son testified against the teacher, Barrie Stewart, in court.
He said he wanted accountability from Knox for his son’s death.
“Private schools are more susceptible to instances of sexual abuse because of more opportunities for the development of close relationships between teachers and students during extra-curricular activities, and because of the prevalence of boarding establishments,” he told the commission.
A student, ARY, blamed the abuse culture at Knox on the former headmaster Ian Paterson saying he dragged Knox through a “dark age”.
ARY said particular teachers were known as touchers but if a student complained “they were seen as weak, and were everybody’s bitch”.
Another student, known as ATQ, who saw a psychologist outside of the school said the doctor told him Paterson used to come to his office, put his head in his hands and cry.
ATQ said he did not know why Paterson cried or why the psychologist told him this.
Counsel assisting the royal commission David Lloyd told the commission it would hear evidence about three teachers at Knox who have not been the subject of criminal proceedings, but who are accused of perpetuating child abuse between 1970 and 2003.
“There will be particular emphasis during this public hearing on the question of what information was known by employees of Knox and members of the Knox Council about the abuse by the teachers, and when that information was known,” he said.
“To the extent that the evidence reveals that employees of Knox and/or members of the Knox Council were aware of allegations of child sexual abuse, 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.”
In Lloyd’s opening address he listed various allegations of abuse that occurred at Knox including:
Preparatory school teacher Barrie Stewart would often tickle former student Guy Lamond and put his hands inside Lamond’s shorts, stroking and cupping his genitals. At a year 5 camp, Lamond says Stewart sat next to him and started rubbing and masturbating his penis for about a minute.
Lamond will also give evidence that another teacher, Craig Treloar, would invite boys to his room and show them porn which showed older boys performing oral sex on younger boys and older boys having anal sex with younger boys. Treloar persuaded Lamond to masturbate him and also asked him to suck his penis. Treloar also took video of Lamond and asked him to play with his genitals while he was filming.
Matthew O’Neal will give evidence Stewart took him to Whale Beach once and put his hands down O’Neal’s pants, moving them around and asked O’Neal to do the same to Stewart.
Former student Adrian Steer will give evidence that teacher Damian Vance told him a student had come to his room once and Vance noticed the student had an erection so “he sucked him off”.
There are multiple allegations of abuse by resident housemaster Adrian Nisbitt who took multiple boys into his dark room and groped their genitals.
One student, known as ATQ, will give evidence he had a three year sexual relationship with resident housemaster Nick Williams and when he approached one of the other resident housemasters at age 16 or 17 to allege Knox was a “paedophile ring”, nothing was done.
Another student, known as ATG, will allege Treloar asked ATG to perform oral sex on him.
A student, known as ASG, will give evidence Stewart, Vance, Treloar and Nisbitt showed boys porn which showed homosexual and heterosexual sex but evolved to paedophilia and bestiality. ASG alleges that he was sexually abused by Vance and Treloar.
Lloyd said there were multiple documents pertaining to the alleged abuse kept by the school over the years but most of them had disappeared with no explanation. Among the documents was a report done by former teacher, Stuart Pearson, in 1986 which detailed many abuse allegations and found many of them could be “sustained”. The report has gone missing.
“Despite the paucity of contemporaneous documents, it is anticipated that there will be evidence that senior people at Knox knew about allegations of abuse at the school at or around the time when the abuse was occurring,” he said.
The hearing is scheduled to continue for the next two weeks before Justice Jennifer Coate.