Knox Grammar had ‘cover-up’ culture
The autocratic style of a headmaster nicknamed “Snake” by boarders at Knox Grammar School made it possible for teachers to take advantage of and prey on students, an inquiry has heard.
A man using the pseudonym ARY said the governance style of Ian Paterson, headmaster at Knox for 30 years, made students fearful of reporting sex abuse by teachers.
ARY boarded at the school from Year 7 in 1974 and was there for four years. He was indecently assaulted by science teacher Roger James when he was 14.
James was convicted and given a suspended sentence.
ARY and other former students told the sex abuse royal commission on Monday there was a culture of cover-up at the prestigious Wahroonga school.
Witnesses also accused the school of engendering a culture of homophobia with one saying he felt the school tried to force him out because he was gay.
ARY said James was a popular teacher, who was considered eccentric, smoked cigars in his office and the playground and was known to have alcohol in his office.
He befriended ARY and stayed with his family, assaulting him during one stay.
ARY said he could not tell his parents who were paying for his expensive education.
He also feared a backlash at school.
“In the boarding school if you were accused of a homosexual act you would never live it down,” he said.
ARY said because of the Knox experience he was severely and incurably homophobic, even though he knew it was illogical.
He said Dr Paterson’s “autocratic style of governance” contributed to the “Knox culture which conditioned students to be fearful of reporting conduct of reporting inappropriate conduct, and to be accepting of such behaviour by teachers.”
It also allowed “teachers to take advantage of, and prey upon, students,” he said.
It was widely known by students that James, music teacher Barrie Stewart and Adrian Nesbitt – three of five teachers who pleaded guilty to indecent acts – were “overly hands-on with boys,” he said.
“I cannot believe that Paterson and other long term staff had no idea that sexual abuse was happening at Knox.”
But the culture stopped teachers from speaking up.
“Everyone was expected to keep up the reputation of Knox,” he said.
Former assistant headmaster John Rentoul became upset as he told how his son David revealed he was molested by Stewart in the late 1970s.
“I believe the school was more interested in protecting the reputation of Knox than ensuring the safety and welfare of its students,” said Dr Rentoul.
A former student using the pseudonym ATQ said when he told another teacher that Knox was a “paedophile ring” he was told, “you can’t say that”.
ATQ was 16 when he was groomed and abused by a housemaster.
The commission heard that despite several internal inquiries there was no evidence Dr Paterson contacted the police.
Dr Paterson, headmaster at Knox from 1969 to 1998 will give evidence, probably next week.
Geoffrey Watson SC, representing Knox Grammar School, said the school humbly and sincerely apologised for its failings.
“It apologises to all of those students who were damaged by these events. It apologises to the parents of those students and the other members of their families,” he said.
The hearing continues on Tuesday.