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Australia 'Get rid of the statue': Private school erases web pages amid abuse claims

03:32  21 february  2020
03:32  21 february  2020 Source:   smh.com.au

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a group of people around each other: One of the web pages dedicated to late housemaster Desmond Lyle ‘Jim’ Graham, prior to it being pulled offline. © The Armidale School One of the web pages dedicated to late housemaster Desmond Lyle ‘Jim’ Graham, prior to it being pulled offline.

A NSW boarding school's web pages dedicated to a celebrated former teacher were erased soon after the institution faced questions over claims he inflicted physical and sexual abuse on students.

a man sitting in a tree: Comrie Bucknell, former student of The Armidale School, says he was sexually abused by Mr Graham. © Nick Moir Comrie Bucknell, former student of The Armidale School, says he was sexually abused by Mr Graham.

A group of ex-pupils of The Armidale School is also calling for a statue erected during a 2016 tribute to late housemaster and veteran staff member Desmond Lyle ‘Jim’ Graham to be removed.

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Comrie Bucknell, who went to the school from 1966 to 1971, said he was sexually abused while being caned by Mr Graham.

"Get rid of the statue," Mr Bucknell told the Herald.

"I don't want to destroy the school, but I do want them to accept the fact that Jim Graham was a rather sadistic individual."

The school, which charges up to $45,000 per year for boarders, is now accused of covering up its veneration of Mr Graham. The allegations come days after prestigious Melbourne school St Kevin’s College was rocked by an abuse scandal that saw its headmaster resign after he provided a reference for a convicted sex offender.

After the Herald asked the school whether it denied allegations of abuse levelled against Mr Graham, among other questions, a spokesperson said the figure "depicts an educational moment when the direction of a teacher ignites the fire of creativity in a student" and was entirely funded by a former pupil as a gift to the school.

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a screenshot of a social media post: A page on the school's website paying tribute to Desmond Lyle 'Jim' Graham that was later pulled offline. © The Armidale School A page on the school's website paying tribute to Desmond Lyle 'Jim' Graham that was later pulled offline.

But within an hour of responding to the Herald, a page depicting the statue and recounting the concert was removed, as was a memorial page for Mr Graham, and another with his bio. Another page dedicated to Mr Graham's scholarship fund was temporarily removed before being restored at the time of deadline.

Asked why the pages were not available, the school did not respond.

Former TAS student Donald Makim, who wrote to then-headmaster Murray Guest early last year to say he had been "violently physically abused" by Mr Graham on many occasions said he was shocked the material on the teacher was missing.

a sign on the side of a building: After inquiries from the Herald, a number of pages on the school's site were displaying this error message. © The Armidale School After inquiries from the Herald, a number of pages on the school's site were displaying this error message.

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School officials and the report said Choate officials didn't notify police, state child welfare officials or other schools of the allegations. State officials have said they're assessing the failure of Choate employees to report abuse in a timely manner as required under Connecticut law.

"I doubt it could be coincidental. If they have actually erased it, it definitely looks like they’re trying to cover it up [their earlier praise of Mr Graham]."

Mr Guest responded to Mr Makim that he was "deeply sorry that you were treated in a way that would be unthinkable today" and Mr Makim's report of his experiences was being built into a database.

But he said while Mr Makim's comments about Mr Graham "have certainly been heard and noted", the statue was "by no means, nor is intended to be" a tribute to the late former staff member.

Mr Guest died in a car crash near Armidale late last year.

His clarification appeared to contradict a eulogy to Mr Graham by former student Peter Cousens in which he said it was a statue of the former teacher, which had been at his Macksville home before being relocated to the school.

TAS was in 2018 revealed to be at the centre of an abuse scandal involving a young house mistress who escaped jail over having sex with five male students during 2014 and 2015.

Mr Makim said the allegations of widespread physical abuse came about after he approached other alumni about his own experiences, leading him to writing a complaint to the school in January 2019. He said he was equally prompted to do so by more recent, separate claims of sexual abuse that had occurred at TAS.

In 2019, the school committed to joining the National Redress Scheme, which provides compensation and access to counselling for survivors of institutional sexual abuse.

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