Sex abuse school caretaker sentenced

Robert Burrett (File)
Robert Burrett (File)

One of New Zealand's worst-ever sex offenders has been sentenced to 19-and-a-half years in prison, with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.

Christchurch school caretaker Robert Selwyn Burrett was sentenced in the High Court in Christchurch this morning. He had pleaded guilty to 21 charges in February, including eight charges of sexual violation and 10 charges of indecent assault.

Burrett has been in custody since his arrest last year. A suppression order covered details of the charges except for the fact they related to sexual offending.

The 65-year-old, who also drove a school bus, sexually abused girls as young as five over two years. Some of the victims were physically and mentally disabled, one eventually coming forward to make the abuse known.

Burrett installed curtains and a lock in his school caretaker's shed where the sexual abuse took place. He was struck off the teacher's register when the offending first came to light.

The abuse involved nine girls and included rape, sodomy, forced oral sex, indecent assaults, videotaping of the offending and watching pornography.

The names of school and the bus company involved are suppressed.

In his summing up, Justice Gerald Nation described Burrett’s offending as morally repugnant. 

"There's not just harm to the victims but to the families... It's abhorrent the consequences of this offending for the wider community," he said.

"As an adult in your sixties you could not have thought for one moment that what you were doing was consensual."

Burrett was found guilty of:

Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar was at court today and said his heart goes out to the victims and families involved. 

"Ultimately, in my opinion, an offender like this really we should be throwing away the key on," he says. 

"We know we can't rehabilitate them, so if we're going to protect our kids from them realistically we need to make sure they never ever walk the streets in this country again." 

An old photo of Burrett (File)

Burrett's history at a Te Kuiti school

Burrett was deputy principal from 1993 to 2001, during which Stephen Parry spent five years as Pukenui School board chair in Te Kuiti.

Mr Parry says staff found Burrett lacking "big time" in terms of teaching and being organised, but there was no evidence he had behaved inappropriately towards children. Mr Parry says if there was, he would've gone straight to police.

Burrett's employment ended in a mediation meeting, where Mr Parry says the New Zealand Education Institute had no doubt he was not fit to teach.

However, after a five-year break Burrett was back teaching.

Mr Parry is devastated about the offending, calling it tragic.

"In terms of the monster that has been unveiled in the last month or so, compared to what I knew of the man 15 years ago, I'm just shell-shocked to be honest.

"I think to be fair to the other employers involved in this chain of events, there was a five-year gap after he concluded his employment at Pukenui."

However, Mr Parry says the system certainly has gaps.

Ministry of Education response

The Ministry of Education welcomed the sentenced today.

"Burrett's offending was abhorrent and cruel and one of the worst of its kind against children," says Ministry of Education's Katrina Casey.

"We commend the police for their work in bringing Burrett to justice. This was a difficult and painstaking enquiry and one that required the utmost care towards the children involved.

"We continue to support those who have been affected and encourage schools to contact us to discuss any further help and support if and when needed."

Read more:

·         Christchurch caretaker admits horrific abuse