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Royal Commission: Geelong Grammar covered up accused teacher's history -

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MARK COLVIN: A former principal of Geelong Grammar School has told the royal commission he didn't believe it was necessary to report child sex abuse complaints to the police in the 1980s and 90s.

The royal commission has heard that students and parents made several reports to John Lewis during his 14 years in charge but there was little action against the teachers concerned.

One was eventually jailed for sexual abuse.

Mr Lewis later became the headmaster of Eton College, the school known for educating Britain's aristocracy, from Prince William and Prince Harry, to the prime minister David Cameron.

Samantha Donovan reports.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: John Lewis was the principal of Geelong Grammar from 1980 to 1994.

He began his evidence to the commission with a statement.

He said he regretted that procedures for the reporting of the sexual abuse of students wasn't in place when he was the school principal.

And:

JOHN LEWIS: Few of the matters involving alleged sexual abuse were easy to deal with at the time. If some of them seem now clearer in retrospect than they did then, that is at least partly because I have subsequently become aware of things of which I knew nothing then.

I also regret that I did not see more clearly that pupils and parents might easily have found the school's responses to some of the difficult matters raised intimidating or defensive, or simply puzzling.

Of course I regret most of all the fact that some pupils and parents suffered hurt and embarrassment to which they ought never to have been subjected. I am very sorry for that.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: David Lloyd is counsel assisting the royal commission

DAVID LLOYD: Mr Lewis, did you mean to include in that statement an apology to the students who, during your period as principal of the school, were sexually abused?

JOHN LEWIS: If that wasn't apparent from the statement, that is what I meant.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: Mr Lloyd asked John Lewis if he thought that complaints of sexual abuse from students should have been reported to the police.

JOHN LEWIS: I don't think it was necessarily my business to report allegations to police until one had made every attempt that you could to establish the truth or otherwise of the allegation.

DAVID LLOYD: What about putting what obligations may have been cast on you by the law to one side; your own view, in terms of your own responsibility as principal or headmaster to those students of the school?

JOHN LEWIS: I did not have a very clear understanding of when or when not such a course of action was appropriate.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: The royal commission has heard that Geelong Grammar kept teacher Jonathan Harvey on the staff for more than two decades despite several complaints that he had sexually abused students or attempted to.

Harvey was later convicted on child sex offences.

Witness BKM has given evidence that he reported to John Lewis that Harvey massaged his genitals and attempted to have sex with him on several occasions in 1982.

John Lewis gave evidence he didn't recall that conversation.

Counsel assisting David Lloyd.

DAVID LLOYD: If BKM's account of things is right, that was a very serious matter, wasn't it?

JOHN LEWIS: It would have been, had he said so.

DAVID LLOYD: And a matter which justified the immediate dismissal of Harvey from the school?

JOHN LEWIS: Well not immediate - would have reinforced the need for investigation, but that was anyway apparent.

DAVID LLOYD: A report to the police?

JOHN LEWIS: Not until some attempt had been made to clarify what had happened. I did not see it as my business to broadcast this widely, or indeed from the other point of view to raise wholesale and widespread conversation, discussion, about the behaviour of a master, who to my knowledge had perpetrated no such offence before.

SAMANTHA DONOVAN: John Lewis will continue his evidence to the royal commission tomorrow.

MARK COLVIN: Samantha Donovan.