ABC 7:30 Report Prestigious private schools face multi-million dollar lawsuits from alleged abuse victims

Claims for damages are being sought against schools including The Scots College, Knox Grammar, Waverley College and De La Salle, Revesby Heights.

Transcript LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Men who say they were sexually abused by their school teachers are preparing to sue their alma maters, claiming the elite schools failed in their duty of care.

Last year the Royal Commission into child sex abuse heard damning revelations about Knox Grammar School in Sydney – and five of its staff members were convicted.

But tonight 7.30 can reveal that the abuse of private school children was more widespread.

As Lorna Knowles explains in this exclusive report, the men are launching a string of separate legal actions for millions of dollars in damages.

LORNA KNOWLES, REPORTER: It’s been more than 20 years since Adrian Coorie saw the last of De La Salle College in Sydney.

(Footage of Adrian Coorie and Lorna Knowles walking outside the perimeter of De La Salle College’s grounds)

ADRIAN COORIE, FORMER DE LA SALLE STUDENT: It’s strange. It’s a bit daunting, actually. Yeah, I… From one point over here I was able to see the office. There happened to be someone sitting outside the office. But it jogged a few memories.

LORNA KNOWLES: Painful memories of sexual abuse he suffered when he was a young boy.

Adrian was 10 years old when he first met religion teacher Errol Swayne, who lived in a caravan on the school grounds.

ADRIAN COORIE: That’s the original science blocks. And actually tucked in behind there was where the van used to be located all the time.

LORNA KNOWLES: It was in that caravan, during weekend visits, that Swayne would show Adrian pornographic films and sexually assault him.

During school hours, Swayne regularly sent Adrian to his office for punishment, where he would molest him.

ADRIAN COORIE: He would explode in the classroom when sending me out. So I bet every student in that class felt that: you know, “I’m a goner, I’m going to go up there and I’m going to be punished.” So it was a role play on his behalf.

(Adrian points beyond the school gates)

ADRIAN COORIE: You can see the original science block just over there…

LORNA KNOWLES: The abuse continued for two years. Then, when Adrian was 15, Swayne committed suicide.

Many years later Adrian told his story to the royal commission and discovered that he wasn’t the only victim.

ADRIAN COORIE: Sometimes you can think you’re the only person something has happened to. But that’s not the case. And that’s where that was confirmed: that other people had already been there and spoken to the royal commission about the same person. So that was a bit of an eye-opener too.

LORNA KNOWLES: Adrian is now suing the college for damages. He alleges the school knew – or ought to have known – that Swayne was a “habitual sexual abuser of boys” and failed to ensure his safety.

(Footage of Adrian in meeting with Ross Koffel)

ROSS KOFFEL, LAWYER AND FORMER KNOX GRAMMAR STUDENT: Your claim occurred a long time ago and…

LORNA KNOWLES: His case is one of a dozen claims that lawyer Ross Koffel is preparing against some of the country’s most prestigious private schools.

ROSS KOFFEL: It is a systemic problem in the institutions, in the schools, and in relevant government departments where children were being looked after.

LORNA KNOWLES: What will be alleged in these new claims?

ROSS KOFFEL: Sexual abuse of the students during school hours in most cases and on the school premises. And it just really couldn’t be worse.

LORNA KNOWLES: Ross Koffel has already filed 10 claims in the New South Wales Supreme Court against De La Salle College Revesby, Knox Grammar, The Scots College and Waverley College. He’ll file another two claims in coming months and says he’s investigating a further eight cases.

(Footage of royal commission hearings)

JOHN RENTOUL, FATHER OF ABUSE VICTIM: I was shocked and outraged when David told us of the abuse. (Cries)

(Footage ends)

LORNA KNOWLES: It was hearing weeks of evidence about widespread child abuse at his former school, Knox Grammar, that galvanised Ross Koffel into action.

ROSS KOFFEL: It was horrendous. I was deeply affected by what had happened, because I had a recollection of the places, the rooms, the school, the playgrounds where it occurred. I knew a lot of the teachers by name. And I was just completely floored.

LORNA KNOWLES: The royal commission heard disturbing accounts of a group of paedophile teachers abusing school children, most of whom have now been charged and convicted.

After the Knox hearings last year, Mr Koffel went public and has been approached by a large number of men who alleged they were abused at other elite schools.

ROSS KOFFEL: It just seemed to me to be the same problem in school after school after school. And yes: that the surprise to us was how many schools, how many students are affected.

LORNA KNOWLES: They include one of the nation’s most exclusive and expensive private schools, The Scots College.

(Footage of Tom Jackson in meeting with Ross Koffel)

So the current position is that we have the statement of claim file…

LORNA KNOWLES (voiceover): Tom Jackson’s parents wanted to give him with the best education money could buy.

TOM JACKSON, FORMER SCOTS COLLEGE STUDENT: …them requiring particulars from me…

(Footage ends)

LORNA KNOWLES: Instead, his school life was miserable. He was 13 years old, on a school trip to the outback, when he was abused by the head maths teacher, John Beckett.

TOM JACKSON: It was on the third night. We had made it to South Australia. There were some rules during the- when it came to sleeping time, where we weren’t allowed to sleep with our underwear on.

LORNA KNOWLES: It was a hot evening and Tom accepted Beckett’s offer to help cool him down.

TOM JACKSON: His approach to that was to would run his fingers and up down our chest. And it worked. It cooled me down. And it was on a voluntary basis: like, “Who needs it?” It was like, “Yeah, I’ll try it” or something like that.

And so that was… that was it. That sort of set the scene. And then… he said, you know, “I’ll come back later if you like and if it’s, you know, still hot I can try it again” or something like that.

And he came back again later, while most people were asleep. I’d say- I don’t know what time it was: maybe three hours later or something like that. And did it again and this time, though, continued down to touch me everywhere.

LORNA KNOWLES: Tom confronted Beckett the next day and he denied any wrongdoing. Tom was miles from home and felt angry and confused.

TOM JACKSON: I was 13: puberty. I questioned my sexuality from that point onwards… ’til, you know, having to do a lot of work on it therapeutically and…

LORNA KNOWLES: Tom says he started acting up at school and barely passed the HSC.

It took him another nine years to tell his parents.

TOM JACKSON: Instantly my Dad was like, “We’ve got to go see the school.”

LORNA KNOWLES: Was anything done?

TOM JACKSON: Ah… not for my knowledge. Beckett taught for another two years.

LORNA KNOWLES: It was only when two witnesses to Beckett’s assaults on boys came forward that a criminal investigation began. Tom and two other victims were interviewed and Beckett was charged.

Last year he was convicted of sexually abusing boys at Scots College.

Ross Koffel is now suing The Scots College on behalf of Tom and two other students who were abused by Beckett on that trip in 1989. He’ll allege that Beckett was a notorious paedophile and that the school failed to protect students from his sexual predation.

ROSS KOFFEL: I hope that it’ll force the schools to have new procedures, so that these things can never happen again.

LEIGH SALES: That report by Lorna Knowles.

Knox Victims Struggle for Justice amid Drawn-Out Litigation with Church

Lawyers for the church property trust that controls the assets of Knox Grammar were subjecting victims of sex abuse to drawn0out litigation and aggressive legal tactics in an attempt to limit damages payments even as the royal commission was investigating the elite Sydney independent school.

Solicitor Ross Koffel, a Knox old boy who also sent his son to the private school on Sydney’s north shore, is representing a host of claimants against Knox.

A large number of inquiries have been received by Sydney solicitors following hearings by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Last week, the commission wrapped up a fortnight of hearings examining how Knox responded to allegations of the child sexual abuse by teachers employed at the school between 1970 and 2009.

Mr Koffel told The Australian that Knox Grammar, via the Uniting Church entity that controls its assets – the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust – had fought sex-abuse victims’ compensation claims “in the most robust way possible”.

“I could never understand why the church would act in such a way,” Mr Koffel said.

“I found it very difficult as a legal practitioner to accept that the church would run litigation with the same vigour and the same force that it would run commercial litigation where the only issue in dispute was money.”

The school’s business arm avoided full responsibility for the sex abuse that took place under the watch of long-serving Knox principal Ian Paterson by cross-claiming against sex-abuser teachers, stripping them of their assets.

Such a tactic slowed the progress of litigation and resulted in some victims falling to receive the portion of their settlement moneys due to be paid by teachers.

It was also extremely difficult for claimants to identify the entity to be sued among the church’s complex business structures.

At the royal commission, victims described the devastating effects of having undergo evaluations by psychiatrists appointed by the defendant.

A spokesman for Knox Grammar said the school had not been directly involved in legal negotiations, “but any instructions Knox has provided to its lawyers have been fair and reasonable”.

The general secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia’s NSW and ACT synods, Andrew Williams, who has apologised to victims, said yesterday it was “abundantly clear to us that we have failed in our pastoral care”.

If victims said legal tactics towards claimants had been aggressive, “we will make sure they are changed”, he said.

Civil litigations suits were launched against Knox from 2009, after five former teachers were convicted, Craig Treloar was jailed, while the rest got suspended sentences for crimes ranging from indecent assault to committing acts of gross indecency.

Grammar sexual abuse examined at Royal Commission

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: The sexual abuse of students at one of Sydney’s most prestigious boys’ schools is the focus of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse over the next fortnight.

Five former teachers from Knox Grammar have been convicted of offences committed during the 1970s and 80s. The commission will examine how the Uniting Church School handled the abuse allegations.

Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Sydney’s Knox Grammar school boasts a long list of notable old boys including the former prime minister Gough Whitlam, broadcaster John Laws and actor Hugh Jackman.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Lawyer Ross Koffel represents several men who were sexually abused at the school.

He too is a Knox old boy.

ROSS KOFFEL: It’s a school with an original Scottish tradition, being originally part of the Presbyterian Church, and hence its cadets and pipe band and the boys wearing kilts. It is been very active in sport and activities outside the school.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Ross Koffel says it’s unclear how many Knox Grammar teachers abused students.

ROSS KOFFEL: And the royal commission will no doubt reveal names that haven’t been known, but there’s a significant number.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Is the number of victims clear?

ROSS KOFFEL: Absolutely not. And, since the royal commission has been announced students have come forward and spoken to us about making a claim that has not been known in the past.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: You’re an old boy of the school. Did you see anything in the culture of the school or the way it was run that led to this sort of behaviour?

ROSS KOFFEL: Nothing. Absolutely, positively nothing. It’s been a complete surprise.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: What are the particular issues your clients want the royal commission to examine?

ROSS KOFFEL: I think victims would like the administration of the school and the church to take the responsibility of what had occurred and I think those victims have always suspected that the administration of the school knew what was happening, and that they didn’t take the appropriate action. And that’s the part of the story that has never been revealed.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: How are your clients feeling as the royal commission hearings are about to get underway?

ROSS KOFFEL: They’re very relieved that it’s going to be in the public domain and they hope – for the very first time – they will get to find out the truth. They are very keen.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Knox Grammar says it’s always accepted its responsibility and supported the police enquiries and, most importantly, any former students who were sexually abused. The school says it looks forward to working with the royal commission.

The Uniting Church says it’s deeply sorry for what happened at Knox Grammar and commends the courage of the survivors and their families. The Church says it looks forward to responding to the royal commission’s recommendations.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Samantha Donovan reporting.

Koffels act in claim against Church over Inaction on Victims of Sexual Abuse

Knox Grammar School where four teachers molested young boys, is being sued for more than $ 1 million over claims it neglected its duty of care to one alleged victim.

In documents filed in the Supreme Court, a 40 year old man, who cannot be named for legal reasons accused the North Shore private school of failing to provided a safe environment to ensure “he was not exposed to the risk of sexual predation by teachers”.

He claimed Knox failed to investigate complaints of abuse and was vicariously liable for some teachers conduct.

Five former teachers have been charged with child sex offences dating back to the 1970’s and 80’s Of those, four have acknowledged guilt. Adrian John Nisbett 61, yesterday admitted to indecently assaulting three boys then aged 16 and 17.

The man suing the school states that when he was in years 5 and 6, a teacher twice groped his genitals in public. In the first instance another teacher was watching but did nothing, he said in a statement of claim.

His claim stated: “[The teacher] demonstrated to the school community a ….tendency to inappropriately touch students by purporting to tuck their shirts into their trousers, fondling and by other means as opportunity presented.”

The man is now a disability pensioner living with depression caused, he said by the depression caused, he said by the damage and injury he suffered as a result of the alleged assaults. He believes the school knew what the teachers were doing.

“Their conduct was not in any way circumscribed or curtailed by the first defendant [Knox] despite its…nature and even when observed by other staff members,” he alleged.

His total claim against the school and one former teacher is expected to amount to more than $1 million.

“It takes courage for our client to pursue his rights against the school and the teacher directly involved, “Ross Koffel, the director of the law firm Koffels, said. Former Knox teachers Craig Howard Treloar, Damien Peirs Vance and Roger Warren James have already admitted to offences against boys.

Yesterday, Nisbett acknowledged he indecently assaulted three Knox senor school boys in 1986 and 1976.

In the District Court in Sydney, he agreed he invited one of the victims, then 17, to a photographic darkroom and moved his “elbow up and down and in a circular motion on the victims genitals”. In the same year 1986 the then boarding master and English teacher used his left elbow to rub a 16 year old’s groin area for up to one minute.

A decade earlier, Nisbett targeted a 16 years boarder in his office on evening. They discussed self defence moves and Nisbett stood behind him, “put his arm gently around him, “put his arm gently around his neck and pushed his groin into the victim’s buttocks. The victim felt something hard”, according to a court document.

Nisbett then moved to the boy’s front and held his genitals through clothes, in a cupping motion saying: “What would you do if I grabbed you like this?””

Nisbett pleaded guilty to two counts of indenct assault, carrying a maximum imprisonment of four years. He admitted to a third offence, which will be taken into account at his sentencing next month.

A fifth former teacher, Barrie Tiffin Stewart, is expected to face a committal hearing this month. Knox did not reply to the Heralad’s request for comments