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

The Australian

Broadcast:March 9, 2015

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.