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GGS failed to protect students: headmaster

Geelong Grammar School failed its students who suffered horrendous sexual abuse, its principal says.

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Headmaster Stephen Meek said the school was appalled by any form of abuse and unreservedly apologised on its behalf.

“We failed those students who were in our care and who became victims of sexual abuse,” Mr Meek told the child abuse royal commission.

“As students, they had every right to attend a school where they were looked after and where their safety and wellbeing were assured,” Mr Meek said on Friday.

“This did not happen so that the school failed in its duty of care and I am sorry.

“Instead, they’ve had to live ever since with the trauma that is associated with child sexual abuse.”

Mr Meek said the school’s past response to abuse had been inadequate.

“I know that as a school we did not always manage these issues well in the past, so that our response was inappropriate or inadequate,” he said.

A former student who was abused by Geelong Grammar teacher BIM has told the commission the prestigious school was more interested in protecting its reputation and financial interests than with his welfare.

The commission heard Geelong Grammar did not disclose all it knew about BIM in settlement negotiations with BIR, including that BIM was moved and then sacked in 1974 for dropping his pants in biology class and that it had information that he was a convicted pedophile.

BIR, who was nine when he was sexually assaulted by then emergency teacher BIM in 1980, said the school was only concerned with defending its reputation and had no intention of acting compassionately towards him.

“They were more interested in protecting their reputation and their finances than they were in my welfare,” he said on Friday.

BIR said the $32,000 settlement he received in 1998 did not recognise the pain and suffering the abuse caused him.

“If anything, the settlement was a token of how little the school cared and how heartless they were in dealing with me,” BIR said.

Mr Meek, who has been principal since late 2004, said of the school’s handling of BIR’s case: “I’m not sure that they managed it as well as they might have done.”

Former staff member BLW said he told then principal Nicholas Sampson in 2004 that his brother had been abused by Jonathan Harvey in the 1970s and thought the long-time teacher would be sacked on the spot.

BLW told the child abuse royal commission that Mr Sampson told him of Mr Harvey: “He’s a dangerous and manipulative man who has for many years slipped through the net.

“Our suspicions are that he has done this to many students over many years and we have never caught him out because nobody has ever written a letter of complaint. He is an evil man.”

Mr Sampson, now the headmaster of Sydney’s elite Cranbrook School, has denied saying anything of the sort.

Mr Sampson organised for Mr Harvey to be paid his entire 2005 salary to retire a year early, at the end of 2004, following the allegation and thanked him for his “outstanding service”.

He has told the commission the payout was not a “sweetheart deal” and he was attempting to honour the victim’s wishes to get the teacher out of the school.

Mr Meek said the handling of some of the past cases was so surprising.

“It’s just inconceivable that they could happen these days.

“In a sense all of the kind of examples are just mostly beyond the belief that they could be allowed to happen now and not be investigated so thoroughly,” he said.

Mr Meek cited in particular the case of a 14-year-old boarder who was expelled for speaking about having been abused in 1989.

“I mean, it’s just so poor it beggars belief.”

Mr Meek said the school now had a zero tolerance approach to sexual misconduct, including among students.

The commission heard a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy who had oral sex were expelled in 2005.

A witness has suggested to the commission that Geelong Grammar should offer to refund the school fees paid by the parents of abuse victims.

Mr Meek said it was a complicated issue but was a factor that could be considered in determining settlements but not the only factor.

Geelong Grammar charges about $60,000 a year in full boarding fees.

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