24 Nov 2021

St Peter's sexual abuse apology likely to trigger further claims

8:02 am on 24 November 2021

The revelations of historical abuse at a prominent Waikato boarding school is expected to trigger more claims from former students.

St Peter's School, Cambridge

St Peter's Cambridge revealed 19 boys suffered sexual, physical or emotional abuse between 1936 and 1981, in cases involving eight staff. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

An investigation by St Peter's Cambridge shows 19 boys suffered sexual, physical or emotional abuse between 1936 and 1981 in cases involving eight staff.

Nestled in 40 hectares of lush farmland next to the Waikato River, the school is regarded as one of the country's prominent boarding colleges.

Among the alumni is retired Antarctic explorer and geologist Peter Otway, who graduated in 1950.

He had never personally been abused, but he had heard murmurs at a school reunion in 2020.

"I did meet an old boy last year who surprised me by hinting he'd been abused in some way, but he didn't go into it at all. I thought it was a one off or exaggerated, and thought nothing ever about it."

Network for Survivors of Abuse in Faith-Based Institutions spokesperson, Liz Tonks, was not surprised to hear of the findings and expects more past students to come forward.

"We know the prevalence of abuse in religious schools is magnitudes greater than in state schools."

The Network had already called on the government to set up an independent authority immediately to deal with claims for redress.

Tonks was convinced survivors would not get the psychological support or redress they needed otherwise.

"Apologies like the one we've had from St Peter's is easy. It's the action is what's been lacking."

School trust board chairperson John Macaskill-Smith said the institution wanted to acknowledge historical abuse and apologise to students who suffered at the hands of former staff.

"We're also fully aware that it could trigger others who might want to come forward and we really encourage them to do so," he said.

In 2018, the school decided to dive into files collected since records began in the 1930s.

The following year, psychologist Dr Suzanne Blackwell was asked to review all the information that had been gathered and how it had been handled.

The review found that in some cases school leaders handled complaints appropriately, but in others perpetrators were not held to account.

Macaskill-Smith said most of the eight implicated staff are very old or dead, while the whereabouts of others is unknown.

"We do know that a couple have been prosecuted for abuse while operating as teachers," he said.

Survivors may be paid some compensation.

The school offered a confidential listening service where former students can speak to trained psychologists

"[The psychologist] will work with the individual to determine the best cause of action, whether that involves coming back to the school or whether there's cases that involve going to the police. That support will be provided."

He understood the police were investigating some complaints, but the police are yet to confirm this to RNZ.