Dilworth School: Damning review into private school finds leaders failed to investigate sexual abuse of students by staff

Warning: This story contains details that may be upsetting to some readers. 

Dilworth School leaders failed to investigate sexual abuse of students by staff, allowing the perpetrators to resign only to then lie about their sudden departure, according to a new report.  

Members of the school board also kept Police in the dark - when they had relevant information about pedophiles and knew police were investigating.   

The details have emerged in an inquiry report chaired by Dame Silvia Cartwright and Frances Joychild KC, which lays bare the extraordinary failures by the private school to address rampant sex abuse and violence.   

The report found 175 former students reported being sexually abused, although the report said the figure is likely higher. On top of that, 134 reported serious physical abuse.   

"Sadly, we believe the number of former students who were sexually abused is likely to be higher and we note the New Zealand Police estimates 233 student victims," the report states.  

In some cases, students were knowingly shared among staff for the purpose of sexually abusing them.   

"Students were extensively groomed and abused by Dilworth tutors, housemasters, chaplains, teachers, scout volunteers, staff friends and associates and friends of friends," the report states.   

Sexual abuse was "committed consistently" from the 1950s to 2005, with most cases between the 1970s and 1990s.   

"Grooming taught some students as they matured how to use younger ones for sexual purposes. Most children were aged between eight and 14."  


The report details the significant failings of the school board, who the report authors felt were more interested in the reputation and finances of the school than the welfare of its students.  

Between 1971 and 2006, the school received complaints about 11 staff.   

The inquiry report found if a complaint went to the board, it was treated solely as an "employment matter". Offenders were offered the opportunity to resign, with some getting payouts in the process.   

The Board would then lie about what happened.  

"The school community and students were not told the truth about the staff member's sudden departure."   

Investigators also established the school board failed to report abuse to police, and when cases got to court its "only focus" was to get name suppression for its staff member and the school.   

When school reverend Peter Taylor was prosecuted for abusing students in 1994 and 2000, "limited assistance" was provided to Police.   

The Police were not told that board members and former staff knew why he'd resigned, and could be interviewed, or that relevant information was held on student medical records.   

Despite advice to the board to implement processes for dealing with sexual abuse complaints, it was not implemented.   


Abuse was consistent for decades, with numbers peaking during the 1970s when Murray Wilton was Principal.  

Abuse per headmaster:

  • John Conolly 1951-1966   


  • Peter Parr 1967-1979   


  • Murray Wilton 1979-1997   


  • Donald MacLean 1997-2018   



Former Dilworth Principal McLean received allegations of underage students engaging in sexual activity with chaplain Ross Browne in August 2001, which the report authors said went "beyond rumour", amounted to a complaint, and should have raised significant concerns.   

Reports of Browne encouraging students to masturbate in his class were known in 1998 and other concerns were raised in 2000, but nothing was done.   

"Again, these allegations were ignored."  

When Browne was allowed to resign in 2006, McLean described his resignation as occurring because "he did not feel able to carry out the role of an energetic and active chaplain as he would like". He got three months' salary, plus 10 weeks of sabbatical. He was also allowed to remain in his school-provided house for three months.   


There was insufficient supervision in boarding houses and "boarding house staff tolerated an unacceptable level of physical bullying and violence up until the mid 1980s."   

Examples of violence reported by those interviewed included older students throwing darts at younger students, juniors being sprayed on the back with sulfuric acid by senior students, and making students crawl over spiked mats, causing their knees to bleed. This was called "death mat bullying" which the report noted was a "popular" form of punishment.   

Students reported staff hitting students with paddy tennis bats, coat hangers or being punched or slapped.   

The report authors were told of students who were cained until they bled.   

Housemaster Rex Mcintosh carried out "mass caining" of all students in MacMurray House after a food fight.   

"Most students described almost complete lack of intervention by adult staff," the report said.  


While former staff claimed to the inquiry there were documented investigations into several staff accused of sex abuse, the inquiry could only find one investigation relating to Howard Wynyard. The inquiry was told the Taylor staff file was "accidentally destroyed" in a cleanout around 1992, 1993. Other records, like complaints from students, "that should have been created were not".   


The report makes 19 recommendations, which include calls to transform the way Dilworth is governed by the board.  

It says the board qualifications remain "dominated by commercial, financial and asset management skills and experience."  It lacked sufficiently experienced educational and welfare expertise. No parent has ever been on the board and only two women, one of whom was Isabella Dilworth, the widow of the founder James Dilworth.   

If a complaint did go to the board, it was treated "solely as an employment dispute". Students were "not told the truth" about the sudden departure of staff. When it came to Ian Wilson, "no steps taken" to oversee safety of students in his care, until he resigned.   

Here are the 19 recommendations:  

  1. Reform and revitalise the Dilworth Trust Board  
  2. Establish continuous external review and oversight of school performance  
  3. Collaborate with survivors  
  4. Heal rifts within the former students' community  
  5. Undertake continuing reviews of child protection and complaints policies and practices 
  6. Update the Protected Disclosure/Whistleblower Policy  
  7. Supplement the student safety programme reviews  
  8. Ensure a safeguarding leadership succession plan  
  9. Continue to improve the relationship with parents  
  10. Whānau and senior student representation on the safeguarding committee 
  11. Regularly review and consult widely on whether the current model is best to implement the trust’s aspirations 
  12. Develop a policy document registry 
  13. Maintain complete student file records and retain them indefinitely 
  14. Retain and archive staff disciplinary files relating to sexual abuse and serious physical abuse indefinitely 
  15. Maintain sufficient high-quality boarding house staff 
  16. Engage quality teaching staff 
  17. Review and enhance pastoral support 
  18. Develop a trusting and cooperative relationship with Police 
  19. Develop an effective working relationship with the Anglican Church. 

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  

Where to find help and support: