A former senior Geelong Grammar staff member believes his son committed suicide after being abused by a pedophile at the prestigious school.
Paul Claridge said the school’s rigid hierarchy dictated its response to sexual abuse, and he feared he may be fired if he challenged its “wrong” decision to expel a student who complained he had been abused.
The former Highton campus deputy master revealed one of his sons may have been a victim of serial offender Philippe Trutmann, who has been convicted of abusing 41 Geelong Grammar students.
“The fact that one person, Philippe Trutmann, could cause so much harm to so many students is reprehensible,” Mr Claridge told the child abuse royal commission on Friday.
“I have a particular insight into the trauma as I now believe that one of my sons may have been a victim whilst a student at Highton and that his subsequent death may have been connected to the abuse.”
Jamie Claridge, a day student at the Highton campus, came home in 1986 and said he hated Mr Trutmann, the commission heard. He committed suicide in 1997 as a 23-year-old, a month after again bringing up the subject of Mr Trutmann.
Mr Claridge criticised the school for putting its reputation before individual students’ wellbeing.
He said issues disappeared into the recesses of upper management and other staff members had little or no say.
Mr Claridge said the school was wrong to expel student BIW, a 14-year-old boarder who complained he woke up one night in 1989 to a man touching him.
“It seems to be that the wrong person was punished and the matter was not properly investigated,” he said.
But Mr Claridge said he felt constrained by Geelong Grammar’s rigid structure.
“You must understand the extremely rigid nature of the school’s operation and the cost that might be borne by a person who, as it were, blew the whistle.”
Mr Trutmann was jailed for six and a half years in 2005 for molesting 40 students between 1985 and 1995 when he was a live-in boarding house assistant at Highton.
He was later given a wholly suspended 12 month sentence after admitting indecently assaulting BIW.
Mr Claridge recalled seeing Mr Trutmann caressing the neck and back of a child sitting on his knee about 1990, which set off warning bells as he believed it was inappropriate.
Mr Claridge, who left the school in 1993, said he believed at the time he did as much as he could to raise concerns about Mr Trutmann.
“The arrangement of the school dictated to large extent the responses of staff in situations like this,” he said.
He said he now believed he should have done more.
Mr Claridge said he would welcome police questioning of Mr Trutmann about his son Jamie.
“I think that would be very beneficial and provide the family with some closure.”
* For support and information about suicide prevention, call Lifeline on 13 11 14