Dilworth report: Former student says school allowed 'paedophile farm', accuses board chair of 'blocking the truth'

The former Dilworth student who has spearheaded a class action against the school says school leaders allowed an environment where a "paedophile farm" flourished and is calling for the board of trustees chair to resign.

Neil Harding made the comments after a damning 500-page report was released on Dilworth, the country's wealthiest school with assets of over a billion dollars.

The report states sexual abuse was "committed consistently" at Dilworth from the 1950s to 2005.

Investigators say "175 former students reported being sexually abused" but the report said the real number could be higher.

Some students were "shared" among staff for the purpose of sexually abusing them.

School leaders failed to investigate complaints against staff, obstructed police, and allowed perpetrators to resign and then lied about their sudden departure.

Central to the report's finding were problems with the school board, which it found had failed over decades to investigate complaints of sexual abuse.

The inquiry was led by Dame Silvia Cartwright and Frances Joychild KC, who found the school was more focused on preserving its finances and reputation than child safety.

"Members of the Board were nearly always appointed for their business and commercial skills, influencing decisions to prioritise the school's reputation over the safety of students."

Harding told Newshub the board chair Aaron Snodgrass should stand aside.

"I again call for the chair of the board, Arron Snodgrass, to resign. He has been blocking the truth. Someone else needs to come in fresh. We need to start again."

Snodgrass refused a request for an interview, instead releasing a statement where he issued another apology.

"The Board apologises to all those who suffered abuse while students at our school. We also apologise to their families and whānau. The report makes abundantly clear that it was not their fault - it was their school that failed to protect them and for that we are truly sorry."

He also said the school now had a focus on safety, progress the inquiry commended.

But Harding believes the report details why police need to take further action, saying some of the behaviour identified in the report points to criminal behaviour.

"Do I want to live in a country where this can happen and people not be found criminally liable?" he said.

"Dilworth have done a lot of window dressing. They have cleaned up their front yard, but they have a toxic backyard."

The details have emerged in an inquiry report which lays bare the extraordinary failures by the private school to address rampant sex abuse and violence. Dame Silvia acknowledged the significance of what they discovered.

"The report we are releasing today is a catalogue of damage and injustice."

The report found students were sexually abused by school leaders including tutors, housemasters, chaplains, teachers, volunteers and friends of staff.

Grooming and abuse of students "taught" them how to assault others, while the school board allowed offenders to resign, some getting payouts in the process

The community was "not told the truth" about staff when they suddenly departed and the board offered "limited assistance" to police despite knowing staff had pertinent information.

The inquiry report says there was "collusion among abusers" and that students were "shared" between staff.

Harding experienced that. He says former housemaster Rex Macintosh sent him to Scout Master and convicted sex offender, Ian Wilson.

The report states McIntosh asked if Wilson if he had "got his own boy yet". When Wilson said no, McIntosh said he'd "sort it out for him".

But what's worse than that in Harding's view, is the way the abuse continued.

"This is worse than anything the pedophiles did. This is bigger. They perpetuated the environment for a pedophile farm."

Important files on another sex offender, school chaplain Peter Taylor, were "accidentally destroyed".

"I do not believe that could ever be an accident. You just don't destroy school files."

Complaints were "routinely ignored", those who spoke up were punished. This was against a backdrop of extreme violence.

The sexual assaults on former Dilworth student Byron Lennon turned him to drugs and booze.

"My alcohol and drug addiction was rampant, this was for years," he said.

He ended up in a gang in Sydney and eventually in jail. He was deported back here in 2016.

He's now clean and says he's pleased to see the report. But he's not convinced by Dilworth's apology and talk of transformation.

"It's all a bit late to say an apology now just because they've been caught out. But I hope now and in the future Dilworth puts in place things to establish a safe school."

And he urges others who are suffering in silence not to give up.

"I want the Dilworth boys to know that they're not alone."

The school was founded in 1906 by farmer James Dilworth to help the disadvantaged.

Survivors say if he was still around he'd be horrified.

If you have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment or assault and would like to speak to someone, you could call the HELP support service. 

  • Auckland: (09) 623 1700 or visit helpauckland.org.nz  
  • Wellington: (04) 801 6655 or visit wellingtonhelp.org.nz  

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