By Jacob Saulwick
Updated April 6, 2016 — 11.19amfirst published at 7.04am
The royal commission into child sexual abuse has triggered a fresh wave of litigation against Sydney private and Catholic schools.
Sydney lawyer Ross Koffel says he has filed 10 claims on behalf of abuse victims against elite schools, including De La Salle College Revesby Heights, Knox Grammar School, The Scots College and the previous administrators of Waverley College, and more are in the works.
Mr Koffel said he been contacted by multiple former students across Sydney before and after representing former Knox students at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse last year.
“It just seemed to me to be the same problem in school after school after school, and yes the surprise to us was how many schools, how many students are affected,” Mr Koffel told the ABC’s7.30 program.
Mr Koffel said he had been particularly affected by the abuse at Knox, where he studied.
“I had a recollection of the places, the rooms, the school, the playgrounds where it occurred,” he said.
“I knew a lot of the teachers by name, and I was just completely floored.”
One of Mr Koffel’s clients, Adrian Coorie, is suing De La Salle College for damages.
Mr Coorie alleges the school knew, or ought to have known, that a former teacher, Errol Swayne, was a habitual sexual abuser of boys and failed to ensure Mr Coorie’s safety as a student.
Mr Coorie was encouraged to make the claim after telling the royal commission of the assaults he allegedly suffered at the hands of Mr Swayne, who lived on a caravan on the school grounds.
“Sometimes you can think that you are the only person that something has happened to but that’s not the case,” Mr Coorie told 7.30.
“And that’s where that was confirmed that other people had already been there and spoken to the royal commission about the same person, so that was a bit of an eye-opener too,” he said.
Mr Swayne, who has since killed himself, allegedly showed Mr Coorie pornographic films in the caravan on weekends, and molested him in his office during school hours.
Mr Koffel told Fairfax Media his clients were seeking damages ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to claims in the millions.
“That in each case varies but it is made up of past medical expenses, past economic loss, future economic loss – it’s a complicated formula,” he said.
“There’s obviously a systemic problem amongst all of these schools and one hopes that taking these actions, our clients who are the victims not only will be compensated but will get apologies from various institutions and recognition that the school has done the wrong thing by them,” he said.
“The outcome hopefully is that each school will have better procedures in the future so it will never happen again.”
Mr Koffel said three of the cases were against Scots, in relation to the school’s former maths department head John Joseph Beckett, who has already been convicted of the assaults.
The claim against the school is that it did not protect students from teachers.
“They had a responsibility to look after their teachers and we say that the school is liable for the actions of their teachers,” Mr Koffel said.
In a statement to the ABC, the Presbyterian Church of Australia on behalf of Scots College said it did not want to make any statement that may impinge on the court process.
“We support those who have come forward to tell their story of what happened to them and we respect their courage in doing so,” the statement said.
A Knox Grammar spokesman told the ABC he was unable to comment while the claims were before the court.
A spokeswoman for Waverley College said the school was aware of a claim in the Supreme Court regarding an accusation of abuse.
“This claim has been filed against the Trustees of the Christian Brothers, the previous administrators of the school, as distinct from the school’s current administration,” the spokesman said.
“The Christian Brothers ceased administration of the College in 2007 and as such we have no records of the alleged events. Waverley College has zero tolerance for abuse of any kind,” she said.
The action against De La Salle College, Revesby Heights, is against De La Salle Brothers, which had governance of the school at the time.
A spokeswoman for De La Salle Brothers Australia said she could not comment on matters before the courts.
“More broadly the De La Salle Brothers are committed to working compassionately and cooperatively with complainants in the civil process,” the spokeswoman said.
Separately, the royal commission said in November it wanted to hear from former students from either The King’s School or Tudor House Preparatory School with information about abuse.
❏ Support is available by phoning Lifeline 13 11 14; National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service 1800 737 732; Men’s Referral Service 1300 766 491.
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