6 Oct 2021

Dilworth School's former chaplain admits to indecently assaulting boys in his care

7:33 pm on 6 October 2021

* Warning: This story contains details of sexual abuse

Dilworth School's former chaplain held after school "clubs" where he would massage young boys and touch their genitals, the High Court has heard.

Ross Douglas Browne.

Ross Douglas Browne. Photo: RNZ/Jordan Bond

Ross Douglas Browne, 73, also encouraged boys to masturbate openly in his classroom.

Browne pleaded guilty at the High Court in Auckland this morning to 16 charges.

Most of the charges were for indecently assaulting boys between 12 and 16 years old. He assaulted the boys between 1987 to 2004.

He was convicted by Justice Toogood.

Browne was Dilworth School's chaplain from 1980 to 2006, and was was also the Vicar of the Anglican Parish of Manurewa until he was charged.

He was also involved in youth theatre and a small radio station which young people were involved with.

He was one of 11 men linked to Dilworth School initially charged with historical sexual abuse, and will be sentenced on 2 December.

Out of the crypt

Over 16 years through to the early 2000s, Browne ran a socialising room next to his office known as "The Crypt". It was furnished with two couches and a computer, and he invited boys to hang out after school, offering them food and coffee.

Court documents, which Browne has verified as true, showed he "groomed" young boys he thought might be gay and invited them to the Crypt. Some attended regularly and Browne became "almost like a father figure" to them. Dilworth is a boarding school for boys from underprivileged backgrounds.

In the Crypt, young boys would often sit on Browne's knee where he touched them inappropriately. He would also offer them massages in their underwear or completely naked, during which he also touched them.

One boy told his school Housemaster Ian Robert Wilson, who it's now known was also sexual abusing children at the school. The boy was ostracized from the Crypt and left the school shortly after.

Browne encouraged boys, some as young as 12 years old, to be intimate with each other.

Before leaving the Crypt each day, the boys would be expected to hug Browne.

Separately, in the classroom, Browne ran a "Christian Living Class" where he encouraged boys to openly masturbate during the lesson.

He told them if they were aroused, "it was fine for them to masturbate in the class". Up to 15 boys at a time did. This happened on multiple occasions, which the court documents say resulted in a "normalising" of the behaviour.

After one of Browne's classes a boy stayed behind to talk to him, concerned about his lack of progress through puberty.

Browne told the boy to pull down his pants and underpants. He knelt down and touched the boys penis for 30 to 40 seconds.

Last year, two of Browne's laptops were searched. Police found 15 objectionable images, including one video, mostly of naked boys.

Browne was until recently the Vicar of the Anglican Parish of Manurewa. After he was charged, RNZ contacted the Parish, where his name and number was still on the answerphone, offering pastoral care.

He also ran youth theatre and a small radio station which young people were involved with.

He is one of 11 Dilworth-linked men charged with historical sexual offending, after a major investigation was launched in 2020, which still continues.

'United by our grief for what you have endured' - Dilworth Trust Board

Dilworth Trust Board chairman Aaron Snodgrass said in a statement that he wanted to acknowledge the courage of the school's former students who laid complaints with the police.

"Know our entire community stands with you, united by our grief for what you have endured," Snodgrass said in a video statement.

"We hope that today's guilty plea is a further step on your journey towards justice and healing."

He said once Ross Browne has been sentenced he will be able to talk more freely.

"We remain focused on justice and redress for Old Boy victims of historical abuse, with the welfare of survivors' at the heart of our efforts."