Former staff member tells royal commission he quit in disgust after a teacher he recommended have minimal contact with pupils was given command of a boarding house at the elite school
The head of discipline at Knox Grammar school quit in disgust when the headmaster put a suspected paedophile in charge of a boarding house, an inquiry has heard.
Stuart Pearson was general duties master at the elite Sydney school in the 1980s when Ian Paterson was headmaster.
Pearson told a royal commission hearing on Monday that one of his reasons for leaving Knox in 1990 was that four years after he recommended that Adrian Nisbett have nothing to do with students beyond the classroom, the teacher was given responsibility for boys at Kooyong Boarding House.
In 2010, Nisbett was convicted of two counts of committing acts of indecency on Knox boys in the 1980s and was released on a good behaviour bond.
Pearson, who is a former police officer, prepared a report for Paterson in 1986 in which he wrote that more than one boy had reported that Nisbett was cupping their genitals and rubbing up against them in the school’s darkroom. The commission has heard that and other reports relating to sexual abuse allegations and the school’s response have gone missing.
Pearson wrote that Nisbett had “targeted post-pubescent boys between the ages of 13 and 15 who excelled athletically as opposed to academically” and he recommended that he be removed from the boarding house of which he was then headmaster. Nisbett was removed but a few years later was appointed resident master of Kooyong house.
Pearson said the Nisbett incident was not the only matter that led him to leave Knox. His reasons were a mix of personal and work issues. Pearson said at that stage his confidence in Paterson had broken down “and I think it was mutually reciprocated”.
He said Paterson had been reluctant to let him investigate Nisbett but did not interfere in the investigation. Pearson gave evidence on Friday that Paterson had told him Nisbett was a highly respected member of staff and the allegations could not be true.
“‘If the matter turns out to be untrue, it is your job’,” he said Paterson said.
Solicitor Jim Harrowell, representing Paterson cross-examined Pearson, for more than an hour
Pearson denied he’s trying to shift the blame for poor record keeping onto the former headmaster.
Pearson reiterated his allegation Paterson had lied when he said he had reported to police that an intruder wearing a balaclava had sexually assaulted a boy in 1988.
In a terse exchange he asked Pearson if when he was a policeman he had a problem with record keeping and complained about the need to keep a lot of documents.
Pearson replied that had happened in 1981 and bore no relationship to his tenure at Knox.
He said he was not suspended from the police force but resigned for health reasons.
Harrowell: “So you are suggesting your failure to keep copies of relevant documents at Knox was purely because Dr Paterson and not because you were inclined not to keep those documents.”
Pearson: “Some documents I kept copies, others I did not”.
He said he would not have kept the most sensitive documents because the protocol at Knox was that those went to the headmaster.
He said in the case of Nisbett the headmaster had stipulated that all documents be given to him.
Mr Pearson said he left Knox in 1990 for a variety of reasons, including the fact he had lost confidence in Dr Paterson because of Nisbett and other issues.
He said by then his confidence in Paterson had broken down “and I think it was mutually reciprocated”.
Last week, the current headmaster of Knox, John Weeks, who ordered an independent investigation into Nisbett, described him as a “protected species … protected by the headmaster”.
Nisbett was allowed to resign in 2004. He is now in South Africa beyond the reach of the royal commission.