Disturbing claims of abuse heard at Royal Commission into Knox Grammar School

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Child abuse cover-up?

Child abuse cover-up?

A FORMER teacher at Sydney’s prestigious Knox Grammar school has failed to appear at a royal commission into child abuse.

The commission has issued a warrant for the arrest of Christopher Fotis, who was due to give evidence on Tuesday.

A public hearing this week has heard disturbing claims of abuse at Knox, which happened in the 1970s and 80s. Boys at one of Australia’s most exclusive schools were allegedly shown pornography, given alcohol and groomed for sex by a number of teachers at the school.

On Thursday David Lloyd, counsel advising the commission, said police were searching for Fotis and if he was found he would be brought to the commission.

Fotis was never charged with offences at Knox but was jailed in Melbourne for sexual abuse offences at a school there after his time at Knox, in Wahroonga on Sydney’s north shore.

The inquiry into the NSW private boys’ school is focusing on an incident in 1988 at one of the boarding houses, MacNeil House, when a person wearing a Knox tracksuit and balaclava hid under a child’s bed and sexually assaulted him.

Mr Lloyd said although the person’s face was concealed by the balaclava a number of the boys in the dormitory believed the offender was Fotis.

Former students have also alleged abuse by other teachers happened in dimly-lit music rehearsals. One of the teachers was still working at the school when he was arrested in 2009.

The expensive private school, whose old boys include judges, politicians such as the late Gough Whitlam and actors Hugh Jackman and Hugo Weaving, faced adverse publicity in 2009 when four teachers pleaded guilty to abusing students.

One “notorious molester” had memorial gates erected in his honour with the inscription “He touched us all”, the inquiry was told.

Prestigious: Hugh Jackman was a former student at the prestigious Knox Grammar. There is

Prestigious: Hugh Jackman was a former student at the prestigious Knox Grammar. There is no suggestion he was abused. Source: Supplied

In his opening statement on Monday, Mr Lloyd said five teachers at Knox in Wahroonga on Sydney’s north shore were convicted of sex offences against students. There would be allegations of abuse by a further three teachers who were never charged, he said.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will examine the response of the Uniting Church and Knox between 1970 and 2012 to concerns raised about inappropriate conduct by a number of teachers towards students at the school.

Evidence has been given that paedophiles were allowed to continue working at Knox even after a string of complaints and some witnesses claimed there was a paedophile ring at the school.

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.

DISTURBING DETAILS

One former student Scott Ashton, 44 told the commission he was nine when he went to the prestigious school. From the start he was abused “openly and brazenly” by teacher Barrie Stewart.

Mr Ashton gave evidence on Tuesday and said he remembers bleeding from his rectum when Stewart used his finger to molest him.

Some of the abuse happened at dimly-lit music rehearsals where Stewart also abused other boys.

In 2009 Stewart was convicted of five counts of indecent assault and two counts of sexual assault. He was given a suspended sentence.

Lives ruined: Former student Scott Ashton with friend Gretel Pinniger (left) and lawyer L

Lives ruined: Former student Scott Ashton with friend Gretel Pinniger (left) and lawyer Leigh Johnson (right). Source: News Corp Australia

Mr Ashton also told of depression, confusion and substance abuse since leaving Knox. He ended up working in the sex industry.

He said he was already fragile when he arrived at Knox as his two-year-old brother had been killed after they were both hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing. The other students beat him up and tried to get him to say he was responsible for his brother’s death

Mr Ashton was too distraught to read his own statement to the commission. It was read instead by his friend, Gretel Pinniger, also known as the high profile Sydney dominatrix Madame Lash.

Mr Ashton was also deeply confused by the attitude at the school where all were expected to pay tribute to an art teacher Bruce Barrett who had died young.

Mr Ashton said Barrett was a “notorious molester” but the school put up memorial gates at the back entrance to the Wahroonga school in his honour and bearing the inscription: “He touched us all”.

Another witness, Coryn Tambling, said he was abused by Craig Treloar in 1984 when he was at Knox. He said the teacher showed him and other boys pornographic videos one of which was a “homosexual gang bang involving teenage boys”.

Shocking allegations of abuse at prestigious boys school Knox Grammar.

Shocking allegations of abuse at prestigious boys school Knox Grammar. Source: Supplied

The teacher would reassure the boys and tell them it was OK to be homosexual, he said.

“Treloar also told me he was part of a group in Kings Cross that made these movies and he would secure me a part in a movie if I wanted.” He said he showed the boys business receipts from the Kings Cross company.

Treloar was sentenced to four and a half years in jail, with two years non-parole in 2009 and is now out. He will give evidence at this royal commission hearing.

MAN IN A BALACLAVA

Counsel for the commission David Lloyd, said witnesses would give evidence that a number of boys in one of the boarding houses were abused by a man in a Knox tracksuit and a balaclava.

One witness will say he awoke one morning when he was in year 8 to find the “balaclava man” sexually assaulting him.

Mr Lloyd said that although the person’s face was concealed by a balaclava, a number of the boys in the dormitory believed it was Christopher Fotis.

The school investigated and the boys were later told the “balaclava man” was a young Asian man who had been arrested by police.

Mr Lloyd said there was no evidence to suggest the NSW Police were ever notified of the incident, either as a break-and-enter or as an assault.

He also said “despite the paucity of contemporaneous documents it is anticipated that there will be evidence that senior people at Knox knew about the allegations of abuse” at the time.

Man wearing a balaclava and Knox tracksuit allegedly abused boys at Knox. Picture: Troy S

Man wearing a balaclava and Knox tracksuit allegedly abused boys at Knox. Picture: Troy Snook Source: News Corp Australia

LIVES RUINED

A former teacher at Knox Grammar broke down as he laid the blame for his son’s ill health and early death squarely on the school he once respected.

John Rentoul, whose son David died aged 44 after a series of illnesses, said he only found out in 2009 that his son had been abused by teacher Barrie Stewart.

Dr Rentoul only found out about the abuse when David, who was at the school in the late 1970s, was giving evidence against Stewart.

“I was shocked and outraged when David told us of the abuse,” said Dr Rentoul, who taught at the school from 1969 to 1980. He became emotional as he told how his son revealed he felt terribly ashamed and guilty because Stewart was a family friend and this led him to hide the abuse for 30 years.

Former Knox teacher Barrie Stewart at the Hornsby local court.

Former Knox teacher Barrie Stewart at the Hornsby local court. Source: News Limited

“I absolutely believe that the extreme stress, guilt and shame David suffered as a result of the abuse directly lead to his health issues and also resulted in his marital problems.” He said his son’s immune system was compromised by prolonged and sustained periods of post traumatic stress and he could not fight a lung infection which led to organ failure.

Dr Rentoul said the family had welcomed Stewart as an excellent teacher and arranged for him to give David piano lessons.

He said they believed the commission should ensure that “institutions such as Knox be held accountable for failing to protect its students against sexual predators”.

Dr Rentoul also said “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”.

Another mother also told of the impacts of the abuse on her son, who has been given the pseudonym ATS. Her son started at the school in 2002 when he was 10 years old.

She said her son was very happy for the first term but then changed — he became quiet and withdrawn. He refused to talk to his parents, became angry and hostile and self-harmed before being hospitalised after a serious suicide attempt.

When he was 14, her son told a psychiatrist that he had been abused by former teacher Craig Treloar, who used to invite boys to his room and offer them ginger beer. Her son would later say things to her like “’Treloar tried it on lots and lots of times, but only got it once’”.

Counsel Assist David Lloyd at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child

Counsel Assist David Lloyd at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse public hearing into Knox Grammar School. Photo Jeremy Piper/ Oculi Source: News Corp Australia

She said she took this to mean that Treloar was constantly sexually harassing her son.

When ATS was 16 he was offered a professional rugby contract with Gordon Rugby Club, but he could not go through with it.

ATS, now 22, lives in Canada — he cannot bear to live in Sydney, she said.

“Words can’t express the enormity of the daily pain experienced by ATS or myself and his family,” she said. The strain led to her marriage breakdown.

She said the experience had been horrific, terrifying and heart-wrenching.

“As a mother I have hopes and dreams for my children. My dreams for ATS were stripped down to mere survival.”

Another witness who used the pseudonym ARY said students could not talk about the abuse because if they did they were seen as weak and considered as everyone’s “bitch”.

He said that during his time at the school he observed systemic bullying by teachers and by students of other students.

He blamed the culture at the school on the headmaster for 30 years Ian Paterson.

“Paterson and his rule dragged the school through a dark age that it should never had had, particularly as a Christian institution,” he said.

HEADMASTER NICKNAMED ‘SNAKE’

The inquiry heard that the autocratic style of a headmaster nicknamed “Snake” at Knox made it possible for teachers to take advantage of and prey on students.

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.

 Knox Grammar School students leaving the school at Wahroonga in Sydney.

Knox Grammar School students at Wahroonga in Sydney. Source: News Corp Australia

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 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,” Dr Rentoul said.

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.

Justice Coate and Commissioner Atkinson at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Respon

Justice Coate and Commissioner Atkinson at the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Picture: Jeremy Piper/ Oculi Source: News Corp Australia

Matthew O’Neal, who was abused by music teacher Barrie Stewart, said he was surprised to discover the teacher was still employed there 15 years later.

In a statement read to a royal commission hearing, Mr O’Neal, said when his brother started at the school in 1990, Stewart was still there.

“A gay paedophile in a boys school is like a kid in a candy shop. He should never have been working there,” Mr O’Neal said.

He said he went to the school when his younger brother was starting and he recalled a comment Stewart made to his mother. “I recall Stewart saying ‘Matthew is better looking than (his brother)’,” he said.

Mr O’Neal said he was relieved because it made him think at least he would not be interested in abusing his brother. He said Knox had done absolutely nothing to help him.

“They have not offered counselling, support, compensation, nothing”.

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.

CRIMINAL CONVICTIONS

Counsel for the commission David Lloyd said Knox, which was established in 1924 by the Presbyterian Church, had five boarding houses supervised by resident masters in the 1980s.

During that time there didn’t appear to be any formal process for employing someone who wanted to be a resident master.

“The evidence will disclose that at least one of the resident masters employed in around 1986, a Mr Chris Fotis, had criminal convictions for more than one offence at the time he was employed,” he said. The nature of the offence has no yet been disclosed. Mr Fotis was due to give evidence later in the hearing.

Former teacher, Craig Treloar, who admitted showing pornography to students in the 1980s continued teaching there until he was arrested for sex abuse more than 20 years later.

Mr Treloar thought he’d be sacked but was instead allowed to pick the timing of his six-month suspension. After returning from his suspension at the start of 1989, Treloar remained at the school until his arrest for child abuse in 2009.

He was sentenced to a minimum two years jail in 2010 for abusing boys at the school, but has also denied forcing his victims into sexual acts.

On Wednesday, he told the royal commission that, after admitting to showing porn to students in 1987, he was suspended from teaching for six months.

Treloar asked headmaster Ian Paterson if his suspension could be delayed — a request Treloar said was brought to the school council, which allowed him to start at the beginning of 1988 and to take off the last six months of the year.

The commission has heard Treloar admitted showing boys heterosexual porn, but evidence he also showed them videos depicting bestiality and paedophilia went undiscovered because the school held no investigation.

Five teachers pleaded guilty to indecent acts. Picture: Troy Snook

Five teachers pleaded guilty to indecent acts. Picture: Troy Snook Source: News Corp Australia

During his appearance at the commission, Treloar described his criminal charges of indecent assault as “letting boys touch me”.

“Do you have any self-awareness of how offensive it is to say that the boys wanted to touch you and you let them?” asked Peter Skinner, counsel representing three victims of sexual abuse. “You forced them to touch you. That’s the truth, isn’t it?” he continued.

“No, I didn’t force them to touch me,” Treloar replied.

Treloar, a Knox old boy who left in 1977 before returning to teach in 1982, told the commission he wasn’t asked for references when he applied to work as a resident master at a boarding home for year seven boys.

The former head of the Knox Preparatory School, Michael Jenkinson, told the commission Treloar’s status as an old boy was valued when he was interviewed for the boarding house job.

After he became aware of the porn, he and Dr Paterson concluded Treloar was immature.

“The only explanation we could give is that he’s just being a show off, of the level of his immaturity,” Mr Jenkinson said. After returning from his six-month suspension, Treloar was removed from the boarding house.

FILES DISAPPEARED

The inquiry heard that the files of students who made complaints of sexual abuse against teachers had disappeared.

David Lloyd, counsel assisting the commission, told the hearing Ian Paterson, who was headmaster between 1969 and 1998, will give evidence he kept documents recording the allegations — and the school’s response — in a black folder in his office.

But when the folder was inspected by Mr Paterson’s successor it became apparent a “number of files of students who made complaints of abuse have gone missing, without apparent explanation”.

Mr Lloyd said the commission will consider whether the documents were “deliberately destroyed in order to eliminate evidence which might adversely affect the school”.

The inquiry would also hear detailed reports were prepared after serious allegations were made against staffer Adrian Nisbett. Nisbett pleaded guilty to assaulting three boys in 1976 and 1986 and received a suspended sentence in 2010.

A duty manager at the school, Stuart Pearson, conducted an extensive investigation and found Nisbett had targeted “post-pubescent boys between 13 and 15 who excelled athletically as opposed to academically”. He recommended Nisbett be removed but there was no record of a response to his report.

Mr Nisbett was given a position as assistant to the headmaster, which he held until 1999, during which time he had access to student files.

He was then appointed to the role of Director of Students and aspects of the role included him providing pastoral care to pupils. There were further complaints and in 2003 Knox appointed an investigator, who carried out inquiries under the supervision of the Ombudsman.

The school accepted the investigator’s findings and informed the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

No mention was made of the NSW Police and the Ombudsman’s office did not pursue Knox, Mr Lloyd told the hearing.

Damien Vance, another teacher, was later given a glowing reference.

Vance was asked to leave Knox in 1989 because the parents of a boy he abused were coming to the school. When he left, Dr Paterson gave Vance a letter of service which he used to get a job in a school in Victoria. He continued to teach until a court ordered him to stay away from all schools two decades later.

Damian Vance, former Knox Grammar teacher who was convicted of inciting an act of indecen

Damian Vance, former Knox Grammar teacher who was convicted of inciting an act of indecency. Picture: Bradley Hunter Source: News Corp Australia

When the hearing was announced current headmaster John Weeks wrote to old boys saying the sex abuse incidents had been widely publicised in 2009 and Knox had “always accepted its responsibility in this matter”.

Mr Weeks also said Knox has a most comprehensive child protection policy covering staff selection and training, student awareness and support structures.


26/02/15

Knox Grammar teacher suspected of hiding under boy’s bed with balaclava, sexually assaulting him

A former teacher at the prestigious Knox Grammar School in Sydney was suspected of wearing a balaclava as he hid under a boy’s bed and inappropriately touched him, the royal commission into child sexual abuse has heard.

The commission heard details of the alleged assault, which was said to have occurred in the late 1980s, from Dr Timothy Hawkes, who was a former Knox Grammar boarding house master and is now the current headmaster at Kings School at Parramatta.

Dr Hawkes said he was alerted to what became known as the “balaclava man” incident when he responded to what was believed to be an intruder about 5:00am.

“This was just a bizarre, extraordinary and extremely worrying and even frightening event,” Dr Hawkes told the hearing.

The teenager, known as ARN, had allegedly been assaulted as he slept.

“[ARN] told me that a man in a balaclava had run his hand on the inside of his leg and up towards his genitals,” Dr Hawkes said.

“He had woken with a start, a shout, and that the man had run off.”

Dr Hawkes said he believed the boy when he was told about the incident and immediately alerted the headmaster, Doctor Ian Paterson.

“We needed action to be taken because we had somebody running around the school with or without a balaclava, sexually interfering with boys,” Dr Hawkes said.

Dr Hawkes told the hearing he did not report the matter to the police because the school hierarchy meant that it would have become the responsibility of the headmaster or his assistant, who was a recently retired police officer.

“I didn’t believe it was my place to do that,” Dr Hawkes said.

“I had every confidence that the matter would be dealt with by a very experienced headmaster.

“There was absolutely no question in my mind that I fully expected the police to be notified because it was a serious offence. And I was desperate to make sure that this person was caught because I did not want that happening again to any of my boys.”

Dr Hawkes reacted angrily to a question from counsel assisting that suggested his priority was to protect the school’s reputation.

“I would totally reject that comment and find it offensive,” Dr Hawkes said.

“I had particularly no motivation to have, to in a sense, protect the school. That would never cross my mind and to suggest so I find utterly offensive.”

In the months after the assault, Dr Hawkes said some students suspected two of his colleagues.

“There was increased speculation that the intruder may well have been somebody inside,” Dr Hawkes said.

“There were two that were talked about in equal degrees of likelihood and those were Mr Fotis and Mr Vance.”

A warrant was issued for the arrest of former Knox Grammar teacher Christopher Fotis, who failed to appear at the hearing on Tuesday.

In his opening statement, Counsel Assisting David Lloyd revealed Damien Vance was later convicted of one count of category four sexual assault and released on a good behaviour bond.

Mr Lloyd said on Monday that “although the person’s face was concealed by a balaclava, a number of the boys in the dormitory believed that the offender was Christopher Fotis, one of the resident masters in MacNeil House at the time”.

“The basis of that belief was that the offender had the same build as Mr Fotis and Mr Fotis had, before lights out on the evening before the assault, said to ARN that he had a surprise in store for him that night,” Mr Lloyd said.

Mr Fotis later resigned from the school “after being arrested for masturbating in his car while parked outside a school”, Mr Lloyd said on Monday.

The hearing before Justice Jennifer Coate and Commissioner Bob Atkinson continues.

The inquiry in Sydney continues.

Melbourne teacher PETER LEE jailed for student sex


This Melbourne school teacher PETER LEE who committed the ultimate betrayal of trust a teacher can have with a student and her family will serve less than two measly friggin years for having sex with her within school grounds! Yes I am serious, no wonder they do this, the penalty is a minor inconvenience when you look at the big picture. Also what about the so-called friends places he took her to for sex? What sort of friends are they? Are they teachers?

This paedophile will get out and there is every chance he might be teaching at a TAFE or other educational venue near you when he gets out. If a man on the street rapes a poor woman he gets a lot longer than a few years.

So when it is a school teacher wouldn’t the great trust bestowed upon him that he has betrayed more of a crime. More punishable, a greater breach? What do you think readers?

By the way if anyone knows this teacher please email me a picture of him. He deserves prominent place in the story at the top of the page! I do feel for his family, what an embarrassment and a shame he must be…Not to mention the trauma the student and her family must be going through…

A MELBOURNE teacher who had sex with a 16-year-old female student on school grounds has been jailed.

Peter Lee, 41, had sex with the student in rooms at the Melbourne suburban high school, at his house, in his car and at houses of his friends, over a period of about nine months.

Months before his offending began Lee, a married father of two young children, gave a small amount of alcohol to the teenager at the school when she had personal problems, the County Court heard today.

The school suspended Lee for three days for supplying the alcohol to the student.

Judge Mark Dean said Lee groomed the teenager prior to his offending and had abused his position of trust.

“Your selfish conduct engaged in for your own physical and psychological gratification must be denounced by this court,” he said.

“I have no doubt our community would regard your offending as extremely serious.”

Judge Dean said Lee’s moral culpability was high.

But he said Lee was remorseful and his prospects of rehabilitation were positive.

The teenager expressed support for Lee in her victim impact statement. But her parents said the offending had damaged their family.

Lee, of Carlton, pleaded guilty to four counts of sexually penetrating a child aged 16 under his care, supervision or authority.

Judge Dean jailed Lee for three-and-a-half years and ordered he serve 21 months before being eligible for parole.

As Judge Dean completed his sentencing a young woman stormed out of court and swore in the direction of Lee and said he deserved a longer sentence.