A former Geelong Grammar School headmaster failed to report any allegations of staff sexually abusing students because he decided himself they had no chance of being prosecuted.
John Lewis, later Princes William and Harry’s headmaster at England’s elite Eton College, believed it was the principal’s role to first determine the veracity of abuse allegations before involving police.
He did not investigate after a parent told him his son was sexually abused in the 1980s and “used in a degrading way” by a teacher on an overseas holiday, saying he was not authorised to do so.
“I did not take the view that boys in general or pupils in general were at daily or regular risk of being abused,” Mr Lewis told the child abuse royal commission.
“I believe that the circumstances in 1986 were unusual and atypical; holidays, 12,000 miles away. The risk of sexual abuse at school was very, very, very much lower.”
Mr Lewis said he had to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt before going to police, which he failed to do with any of the abuse allegations he knew about during his 14 years as Geelong Grammar’s principal from 1980.
“If an allegation could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, it has the potential of course to move into the area of criminal procedure,” Mr Lewis said.
“Unfortunately, some doubts arose which meant that it was very rare for an instance to fall, in my judgment, in that area.”
Counsel assisting the commission David Lloyd suggested Mr Lewis took on the role of police and jury before even reporting a matter to police, but he said he did not think about it that way.
“I was being asked on a reasonably frequent, even regular basis, to make disciplinary judgments about matters brought to my attention. It was part of one’s role,” he said on Wednesday.
“It was still my belief at that time that police were not very much interested except in cases where they believed that the truth had been established.”
When told about the 1986 overseas trip allegation involving teacher Jonathan Harvey, Mr Lewis was already aware of an earlier complaint that Mr Harvey had fondled and tried to have sex with another student, BKM, four years earlier.
“I simply did not believe that BKM, who was not a shrinking violet, would let himself be put in a situation where any further abuse can occur,” Mr Lewis said.
Mr Lewis rejected suggestions that his handling of abuse complaints was inadequate, although he did admit the school’s response to child sexual assault was “not an area we got as right as we might have done”.
“Any such incident is very, very serious but the scale of the alleged incidents that had occurred was, in the scheme of things, comparatively modest,” he also said.
“Well it’s worse than nil, but you are – if I may say so – creating the impression that sexual abuse was rife. It is not, in my opinion, a fair description of the overall situation.”
Barrister Dyson Hore-Lacy SC suggested that had Mr Lewis properly investigated 14-year-old boarder BIW’s complaint that he woke up to a man molesting him in 1989, it would have saved as many as 40 boys from being abused by former boarding house assistant Philippe Trutmann.
“Well, it’s a possible view of it,” Mr Lewis replied.