Grammar sexual abuse examined at Royal Commission

ABC Radio - AM with Michael Brissenden

Broadcast:February 23, 2015
Reporter:Samantha Donovan

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.