Camberwell Grammar School – where some students report learning fear
Over the years, Camberwell Grammar School, also known as Camberwell Church of England Grammar School, has joined the ranks of prestigious schools to be rocked by allegations of historical child abuse.
Early warning of the horrors to come
In his testimony to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual abuse, Max Howell, former Deputy Headmaster of Camberwell Grammar School until approximately 1965, indicated that he was aware during his tenure of rumours of sexual impropriety on the school grounds involving a master’s conduct towards his students. Mr Howell gave evidence that these rumours were brought to the attention of the Headmaster and that the master in question was consequently dismissed.
Despite this warning to the School, it seems that little was done subsequently to prevent teachers from abusing young students, and history went on to repeat itself.
Trevor Alan Spurritt – alleged paedophile masked as teacher and carer
In 2017, former Camberwell Grammar teacher Trevor Alan Spurritt was charged with 14 counts of historical indecent assault involving seven males. Some of the alleged victims were students, whom he abused on school camps and in classrooms during the 1960s and 1970s.
In August 2019, Spurritt was found guilty of nine charges of indecent assault against boys under the age of 16 years. The initial guilty verdict was subject to a suppression order, with a second trial due to commence, however, this was later dismissed. On 12 February 2020, Spurritt was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of five years and eight months, to serve at least three years before being eligible for parole.
Spurritt appealed his conviction. On 5 February 2021, the Supreme Court of Victoria’s Court of Appeal allowed his appeal and quashed the convictions, entering judgments of acquittal. The Court of Appeal held that the guilty verdicts in relation to various six of the nine charges were unreasonable and could not be supported by the evidence. The Appeal judges stated that in their view the evidence of various witnesses relied upon was problematic for various reasons.
Whilst the Appeal Court found that the evidence of one of the witnesses was sufficient to support Spurritt’s conviction on three charges, and that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt of Spurritt’s guilt on those charges, it nevertheless held that his conviction on those three charges should be set aside because of the risk that the jury’s consideration of the evidence on those three charges could have been affected by significant issues in the evidence regarding the other six charges.
The Court of Appeal considered whether a retrial should be ordered in relation to the above three charges, but ultimately decided to substitute an acquittal on them because it found that if Spurritt were retried and again convicted on those three charges the likely sentence that would be imposed would be of similar duration to the 12 months imprisonment he had already served.
The burden of proof in criminal cases like these is satisfaction of guilt “beyond reasonable doubt”, given the high stakes involved, and the consequence of a guilty verdict often being the imposition of a term of imprisonment.
A civil claim for abuse does not involve such a high burden of proof. The standard of proof is on the lower “balance of probabilities”. This means that whilst a criminal trial may result in an unsuccessful conviction, a civil trial involving similar facts could lead to a finding of negligence, vicarious liability and/or a civil tort of battery or assault.
RCT Law's Abuse Law practice acts for a number of survivors of abuse at Camberwell Grammar.
RCT Law specialises in civil claims for compensation for physical or sexual abuse that occurred in an institutional setting.
RCT Law is the largest Abuse Law practice in Victoria. Since the early 1990s, we have acted for more than 3,000 clients who have suffered physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, cultural abuse and/or neglect.
RCT is a pioneer in representing survivors of sexual and physical abuse. We have acted for abuse survivors for decades, back when legal obstacles made it almost impossible to take claims to court. We are still fierce advocate for the rights of those abused as children now there are fewer legal barriers to take action.
An earlier version of this article published on 21 October 2019 stated that the allegations of abuse by Trevor Spurritt dating back four decades had been reported to Camberwell Grammar and Victoria Police at the time of the offending. This is incorrect.
An earlier version of this article published on 21 October 2019 incorrectly referenced Trevor Spurritt as having engaged in grooming behaviours with his students and encouraging students to play strip poker with him on camp. This is incorrect.
We apologise for the factual inaccuracies.
This article was first published on 19 February, 2020 and updated on 8 February, 2021.