Royal commission hears of sex abuse at elite Knox Grammar school
KNOX Grammar School did not inform police of a single incident of child sexual abuse perpetrated by five teachers over period of 33 years, a royal commission has heard.
Council assisting the commission, David Lloyd, said in the opening of the inquiry into Knox, an elite Sydney private boy’s school associated with the Uniting Church, that the five convicted teachers had collectively abused a number of boys, and among the penalties issued was a jail term.
“There will be particular emphasis during this public hearing on the question of what information was known by the employees of Knox and members of the Knox Council about the abuse by the teachers, and when that information was known,” Mr Lloyd told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.
He outlined a litany of episodes of sexual abuse by the teachers, in graphic terms.
The abuse included teachers touching and fondling students’ genitals, discussion of oral sex, and taking photos of boys during sexual acts.
Mr Lloyd said on some occasions. teachers showed students pornographic videos, including one showing men having sex with animals.
He said there was widespread knowledge of the abuse among the boys, and some reports of them to school superiors which were kept in a black folder by a previous headmaster.
But many critical documents had gone missing, Mr Lloyd said, “without explanation”, and the inquiry would examine whether they had been destroyed deliberately, and if so, by whom.
Mr Lloyd said the inquiry would allege that one teacher convicted of sexual assault, Adrian Nisbett, was known by the then headmaster to have engaged in abuse, but kept on at the school in different roles.
Mr Lloyd told of “the Balaclava man”, as he was known by the students, who was found one morning under a boy’s bed dressed in a Knox tracksuit and balaclava, sexually abusing a student.
When a student raised the alarm, the balaclava man put a doona over his head and ran out of the boarding house, and was chased by a number of boys but not captured.
“The evidence will show that at least one of the resident masters had criminal convictions for more than one offence at the time he was employed,” Mr Lloyd said.
Counsel for Knox, Geoffrey Watson SC, apologised on behalf of the school.
“The school also acknowledges that an apology, however heartfelt, can only go so far,” Mr Watson told the Commission.
“The next two weeks will be a dark time for many people.”
Mr Watson said steps had been taken by Knox on the advice of professional advisers to protect the safety of students from such abuse.
One former Knox student described a long period of abuse he suffered at the hands of one of the convicted former teachers, Barrie Stewart, as a teenager in the 1970s.
This included many nights in which he was asked to go to Stewart’s office, when he knew he would be sexually assaulted.
“If a teacher told you to do something, you did it,” the former student identified only as ARY, said.
ARY told the Commission that while Stewart and some other teachers were known as “touchers”, those who complained were chastised.
“They were seen as weak, and were everybody’s bitch.”
A former assistant headmaster at Knox, John Rentoul, told the commission his son David, who attended the school, had been abused by Stewart, and kept it from his parents for 30 years.
After Stewart’s trial, Mr Rentoul said, David’s mental health deteriorated significantly, and he died in his 40s from an illness.