Dilworth School: At least 22 former students allege past school leaders ignored, punished students for complaining about abuse

Warning: This story discusses rape and sexual abuse.

Newshub can reveal at least 22 old boys from Dilworth School allege former school leaders were told of abuse, but rather than acting on complaints, they ignored, threatened, or punished students for speaking up. 

Newshub has obtained detailed summaries of allegations from victims and searched court records showing Dilworth's former principal went to great lengths to keep the school's name a secret.

Sharing his story for the first time, former student Mat Stapleton says he was raped by a school priest as a nine-year-old. Fearful and shamed, he never spoke of what happened - until now.

"I didn't understand what was happening. I had never been subjected to anything like that before and it wasn't part of my world. I mean, should sexual abuse be something that a kid knows about?" he tells Newshub.

"The extent of my injuries were that I was in a lot of pain, so I asked to see the doctor."

He says no one asked questions about his injuries, but the pain was so severe he says he couldn't sit down.

"For the next couple of days, I was allowed to do my work standing up at the windowsill," he says.

At the time, he didn't complain. 

"When you're a kid, I guess in that position, like I was, it was a hard thing to get your head around."

But others did complain. Summaries written by complainants involved in a class action show 22 former pupils did inform the school of the alleged abuse. 

One says he was "called a liar, caned and threatened with expulsion", another wrote a detailed letter to a former principal about being abused and got "no response".  One says "I was told I was a liar and stupid boy for causing trouble" and one was threatened with the cane "if I spoke of it again". Another was told to "go away".

Former student Joshua Jurisich was indecently assaulted at Dilworth in the late 80s. He says his mate was even kicked out after saying he'd been abused. 

"The way that the school was administered at the time was basically [to] protect the school's reputation at all costs and that included the cost of our safety, the cost of our innocence," he tells Newshub.

He says the principal at the time was Dr Murray Wilton, and Jurisich has "no doubt in [his] mind" he knew about these serious allegations.

Wilton didn't respond to questions asked by Newshub. Dilworth School also said it was unable to answer many of Newshub's questions. 

Trust chairperson Aaron Snodgrass says an independent inquiry is underway, looking at processes and policies related to student safety and its response to complaints of sexual abuse.

Dilworth School gives scholarships to boys from deprived backgrounds. 

"I believe that the scholarship was used pretty much as a weapon to coerce us into toeing the line," Jurisich says.

Dilworth School: At least 22 former students allege past school leaders ignored, punished students for complaining about abuse
Photo credit: Getty Images

Until recently, Dilworth fought successfully to keep its name out of the public.

Newshub got access to court documents which show in 2014, in a case of a tutor sodomising a student, Principal Donald MacLean wrote to the judge saying:

"I am concerned the reputation of Dilworth will be detrimentally impacted upon by publication."

"I consider that the education of pupils will be compromised."

"Publication...may discourage future parents and families from applying for enrolment at Dilworth."

Former Dilworth student Steven Gray says since the 70s, the school has "gone out of their way to stop anything from coming out from boys talking to going to the police".

"[They made those choices because of] money. For me, it's always come back to money, that's the thing. The value has just gone up and up over the years," Gray says.

Dilworth's investment portfolio, mainly in property, stands at over a billion dollars.

As a 13-year-old, Grey says he was threatened after asking questions about why two teachers had suddenly left the school. 

"We were called into the headmaster's office and threatened with slander for daring to bring this up."

In the case of Mat Stapleton's abuser, he too quietly resigned. At the time, police were never informed. 

"They have to stand up and publicly admit that they willfully covered up what went on when we were kids," Stapleton says.

To date, as part of police inquiry Operation Beverly, 11 former staff have been charged.

"I believe somewhere along the line there was some collusion between them, possibly like today what we call a ring," he says.

"I believe some of the guys were working together, yeah definitely."

Stapleton adds that Dilworth should publicly acknowledge abuse or knowledge of whether it was covered up.

Dilworth refused to say whether it believed abuse was covered up but said: "Our Old Boy survivors and their families have had to endure pain and continued impacts as a result, and we are deeply sorry for this."

Newshub asked former long-standing board trustee and chair Derek Firth if he was aware of abuse at the school - he didn't respond.

But the victims did want to speak up to say an apology doesn't cut it and to encourage other survivors to "step forward".

"Dilworth aren't calling the shots anymore, we're calling the shots and that's something that Dilworth has to understand. We are calling the shots now," Stapleton says.

"We're not alone, you're not alone," Jurisich says.

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