Knox Grammar School has a dark, disgraceful history.
For decades, boarders at the school were sexually harassed and assaulted by paedophile teachers. The Headmaster knew the teachers were touching the boys inappropriately. They had records of child abuse claims and allegations.
Still, the teachers were allowed to roam the halls and force the boys into performing sexual acts on each other and on the teachers.
One of the worst of the teachers was Adrian Nisbett.
Nisbett started working at Knox Grammar School in 1971. He was one of the Headmasters and an English teacher. He worked there for more than 30 years. In this time, he groomed and sexually abused a number of underage boys.
He was allowed to abuse them. No one tried to stop him. The boys had nowhere to go and their complaints went unheard – in fact, their complaints were concealed by the Headmaster.
Their cries for help went unheard.
In this article, we explore Nisbett’s history at Knox Grammar School and the crimes he committed against the boys, then shine a spotlight on the cruel, unjust cover-up of the abuse.
Master of discipline told the Headmaster that Nisbett shouldn’t be allowed near children
Knox Grammar School’s Headmaster, Dr Ian Paterson, was warned about Adrian Nisbett.
The Head of Discipline, Stuart Pearson, was on general duties at the school in the 1980s. He was a former police officer. He had heard about his coworker’s alleged crimes – one student reported Nisbett had cupped his genitals and rubbed up against him in the school’s darkroom.
Other reports and documents were missing.
In 1986, Mr Pearson prepared a report for Paterson regarding Nisbett’s behavior.
Paterson had been reluctant to let Mr Pearson investigate his coworker, but didn’t interfere with the investigation.
In the report, Mr Pearson wrote that Nisbett “targeted post-pubescent boys between the ages of 13 and 15 who excelled athletically as opposed to academically”. He also recommended that Nisbett should be removed from the boarding house where he was Headmaster.
According to Mr Pearson, Paterson told him Nisbett was a highly respected member of staff and the allegations simply could not be true. Paterson told Mr Pearson “if the matter turns out to be untrue, it is your job”.
Nisbett was removed from the school for a few years, but in 1990, Nisbett was placed in charge of Kooyong Boarding House.
“I will never recover”: survivors share their stories and sue Knox Grammar School
Over the years, several survivors have come forward to share their horrific stories about Nisbett. Phillip Ashworth, for example, was abused by Nisbett when he was 14-years-old.
Phillip’s statement claimed Nisbett used his position of power to groom him between 1980 and 1981. Nisbett would spend “private time” with Phillip when he was a boarder and told him they were friends.
Nisbett would give the child special privileges and alcohol. He also told Phillip it was acceptable to engage in sexual acts with other kids while Nisbett looked on.
In their private meetings, Nisbett would force Phillip to masturbate in front of him. Phillip was also forced to perform oral sex, among other abuses. Nisbett would do the same thing to other children.
Throughout his life, Phillip has suffered from depression, anxiety, drug abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I will never recover,” Phillip told the Royal Commission.
“I am a broken man and last year, I tried to take my life.”
Nisbett was given a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to indecently assaulting two students
In 2004, Dr Paterson was replaced by the new Headmaster, John Weeks. His first order of business was to sack Nisbett. Mr Weeks had heard rumours about Nisbett back in the 1990s.
“Adrian Nisbett was considered to be a protected species at Knox Grammar School… protected by the Headmaster,” he told the Royal Commission in 2015.
“There were red flags everywhere from my point of view… I wanted him gone.”
Nisbett was allowed to resign following an internal investigation that was given to the NSW Ombudsman, but not the police. However, NSW Police had started investigating Nisbett and the allegations of abuse surrounding him and Knox Grammar School as a whole.
Nisbett was arrested for child sexual abuse and assault in 2009.
In 2010, Nisbett pleaded guilty at Sydney’s Downing Centre District Court. He was charged with the sexual assault of two teenage boys, aged 16 and 17-years-old, between February and December 1986.
One was the student who was abused in the school’s darkroom. When he was 17-years-old, he was a keen photographer but his dreams were cut short when Nisbett decided to assault him in the darkroom.
Nisbett invited the teen into the darkroom where the lights were switched off. As the teen leaned over the equipment, Nisbett moved his elbow into his genitals and moved it up and down in a circular motion. This made the student uncomfortable and he quickly left.
The second teen experienced the same thing. He was left “uncomfortable and disturbed”.
Despite his crimes, Nisbett was sentenced to imprisonment for 14 months and 10 months for each of the charges. Both sentences were suspended and Nisbett was allowed to walk free.
Judge Anthony Garling considered this punishment enough for the paedophile.
Since the sentencing, Nisbett has since left Australia to work with children in Namibia. It is believed four more complaints have been made since he left the country, which police are investigating.
Royal Commission hears Headmaster Dr Ian Paterson led the cover-up of abuse
Image: Bishop Accountability
In 2015, Dr Paterson told the Royal Commission that Knox Grammar School was his “life and legacy”. He would do anything to protect his reputation and the reputation of the school – even cover up instances of child sexual abuse.
He admitted he covered up litigation and misled a police officer who was investigating six members of staff. The Commission heard from the police officer, Inspector Beth Cullen, who spoke to Dr Paterson in 1996.
Dr Paterson admitted to keeping information about the sexual abuse claims from Inspector Cullen. Instead, he gave her staff files, fully aware the documents did not reference the claims.
“I can’t recall why I did not reveal to Inspector Cullen my information about those teachers,” he said.
Dr Paterson agreed he was trying to protect the teachers. When asked if he was trying to protect his own reputation as the Headmaster, he said he couldn’t recall.
Dr Paterson accepted if he had done more and helped with the investigation, it is likely a number of boys under his care would not have been sexually abused. He said it was an “unacceptable failure” on his behalf.
He did, however, claim Nisbett’s abuse could have been “an accident”.
Solicitor allegedly told Knox Grammar School to destroy files relating to child sexual abuse
During the Royal Commission, emails were tendered as evidence showing that an unnamed solicitor told Knox Grammar School to destroy documents relating to their child sexual abuse allegations.
The recommendation came in 2009 when five of the school’s teachers, including Nisbett, were arrested.
Knox Grammar School’s current Headmaster, John Weeks, said he couldn’t believe members of the school council or their solicitors could have ordered the destruction of the documents.
“It is unconscionable that they would,” Mr Weeks said.
He also told the Commission he wishes the documents could be found because “it could have saved considerable angst”.
Current Headmaster John Weeks delivers heartfelt apology to victims of abuse
In 2015, Mr Weeks delivered an emotional apology for the cover-up of years of abuse at the school. He started by saying the survivors were men of integrity and the five teachers who were arrested were men of shame.
“To the men who were sexually abused as young boys, I want you to know this. You did nothing wrong, those teachers and resident masters did. And they do stand condemned by their own admissions,” Mr Weeks said.
Former Knox Council Chairman, Robert Wannan, also apologised.
“I’m horrified and I know that the community of Knox is horrified,” Mr Wannan said.
“Because the school, like any other school, has a paramount duty to ensure the safety and well-being of it’s students, and the school failed abjectly in that duty.”
The boys from Knox Grammar School received their apology, but their abuser was allowed to walk free and leave the country.
We ask where the real justice is for the students at Knox Grammar School. How is it fair for their abuser to live it up in Namibia? The man who molested them and forced them to masturbate in from him?
Who was the real winner here?
At Kelso Lawyers, we fight on behalf of child abuse survivors – we help survivors achieve the compensation and the justice they deserve after a lifetime of trauma and turmoil. We fight for what’s right.
If you believe you were abused at Knox Grammar School, please get in touch with our team of child abuse law experts. We can help achieve a desirable outcome to relieve the hurt you’ve experienced.
Get the justice you deserve with Kelso Lawyers. We want to hear your story. Call (02) 4907 4200 or complete the online form before you accept payment from the National Redress Scheme.