Geelong Grammar School did not tell a former student the teacher who allegedly abused him was a convicted pedophile who had been sacked for dropping his pants in biology class, an inquiry has heard.
The prestigious school also insisted on a confidential $32,000 settlement in a bid to protect its reputation and prevent other students coming forward with claims, the child abuse royal commission heard on Tuesday.
Former principal John Lewis, later Princes William and Harry’s headmaster at England’s elite Eton College, admits some former students may have found Geelong Grammar’s approach to sex abuse allegations intimidating or even puzzling.
His successor, Lister Hannah, said the school’s legal advice was to limit disclosure when the student known as BIR came forward in 1997 to allege he had been abused by teacher BIM in 1980, asking for recognition and modest compensation.
The commission heard Geelong Grammar did not disclose all it knew about BIM in the settlement negotiations, including that it had information that he was a convicted pedophile and that he was sacked in 1974 for dropping his pants in class but was re-employed in 1980 as an emergency teacher.
Documents tendered to the commission show the school believed BIR’s civil claim was “not strong” legally because of the time that had elapsed since the alleged incident, which occurred outside school hours and property.
The then school council chairman John McInnes noted: “The costs and associated risks associated with having the matter come to court are such that it would be far better to pay the money and have the matter behind us on the basis suggested by (legal adviser) Richard (Anderson) despite the fact that right may be on our side.”
Mr Lewis, principal from 1980 to 1994, said he regretted that some students and parents suffered hurt and embarrassment.
“I also regret that I did not see more clearly that pupils and parents might easily have found the school’s responses to some of the difficult matters raised intimidating or defensive or simply puzzling, as they might not have done if formal policies had been promulgated and endorsed,” he said.
The commission has heard student BKM and his mother BIA complained to Mr Lewis that teacher Jonathan Harvey – later convicted for abusing another student in the 1970s – tried to have sex with the boy in 1982, an allegation denied by Mr Harvey.
Mr Lewis said it was not appropriate to investigate by speaking to other teachers.
“You don’t want to idly, loosely, provoke a hornet’s nest until you are much surer of your ground,” he said.
Mr Lewis also did not go to police about teacher Andrew MacCulloch, and said he could not remember being told the teacher had masturbated a student in 1986.
“It would not be an automatic assumption that matters would go to the police,” he said.
“I think that parents in large measure expected the school to deal with disciplinary matters.”
The commission heard Mr MacCulloch, first employed as a teacher in 1985, committed suicide a few days after being sacked in 1991 for failing to seek counselling following concerns about his relationships with students.