Real Life

The sickening school abuse that left even tough police in tears

A child abuse ring at an elite Sydney school rocked the nation – but it also left a chilling legacy on the police officers who investigated.

A paedophile ring at Knox Grammar, one of Sydney's most elite private schools, rocked the nation.

Now for the first time, the investigation behind it has been revealed – along with troubling new information that the police force gave no support or counselling to the police investigating it.

Detective Sergeant Simon Gillard was one of the lead investigators ... and what he discovered in that school, which today charges fees of $30,600 a year, shocks and sickens him to this day.

Simon has revealed his challenges with this case and life in the police force in a chilling interview in the May issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Detective Sergeant Simon Gillard. Source: *The Australian Women's Weekly*
Detective Sergeant Simon Gillard. Source: The Australian Women's Weekly

His compelling book, 'Life Sentence' (Penguin Random House), about investigating the historic sexual abuse which occurred in the late 1970s to mid-1980s, and how 15 years in the force left him battling post-traumatic stress disorder is out now.

“It soon became apparent that these men at Knox were working as a network," Simon recounts.

"Some boys who were abused by one man when they were very young were picked up for further abuse by another when they were 13 or 14-year-old boarders. In the end we got statements from about 37 victims, but we thought the total number was probably more than 100 because many never came forward. I listened to the most horrific and upsetting stories. It was usually talking about the first sexual contact that made them break down and start sobbing. I'd pause the interview and offer them coffee, trying to help them as best as I could, and I'd chat about something else before picking up the story again."

Simon opened up about his battle with PTSD after working to take down the Knox Grammar paedophile ring.
Simon opened up about his battle with PTSD after working to take down the Knox Grammar paedophile ring.

"Interviewing these poor men was a torturous and daunting business. I had to go through the school year books for each boy who had been abused and then look at the photos of the grubby teachers who had violated them. Those beautiful little boys standing up straight, arms crossed, smiling, faces full of hope for the future; then I'd recall the boy I had interviewed as a grown man, perhaps jut a bit older than me, broken and crying at the trauma of the abuse. Many of the teachers named had been at the school for decades. They worked as a team, calling the targeted boys - usually the vulnerable ones – ‘girls’ as in, ‘Gotta new girl in the class…” and passing on information about them. I would get upset and tearful. I felt sick and helpless and had trouble sleeping. The nightmares started."

"As the sentences for each of the men was handed down and they were given suspended sentences, I became more and more distraught," Simon remembers.

"I was angry and confused. I was not the only member of Strike Force Arika to be affected. There was no counselling to help us after such a stressful and lengthy investigation, let along advice on how to cope with the distressing information we had uncovered. Two detectives (out of the eight-detective Strike Force Arika) left the force soon after. Like me, both had children of a similar age to the boys when they had been abused – one was my friend, and the whole thing brought him undone and he had a breakdown and was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder."

Simon Gillard, too, was invalided out of the force with PTSD due to his ordeals of the job, and is now an advocate for others with PTSD in the emergency services and community. He is also a motivational speaker and author.

Five Knox teachers were convicted.

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