A former Dilworth student who fought off abuse by a teacher later convicted as a paedophile has described a "Lord of the Flies" culture of violence, bullying and cover-ups at the Anglican school.
Neil Harding, 55, attended the Auckland Anglican school over 1977 and 1978, and shared his experience on Monday as part of the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.
Harding was accepted into the school aged 11, coming from a single-parent family where his father had abandoned him and his mother at a young age.
The school offers scholarships to students on the basis of family need, and thus many were particularly vulnerable, many searching for "father figures", Harding said.
When he arrived it was a "bit of a shock". He experienced severe homesickness along with struggling with the "harsh military-style establishment".
As well as "Harding", he was also to be known as "409".
"We were depersonalised," he told the commission.
There was much violence and bullying among the boys, and lack of staff supervision.
He was desperate to return home over the weekends and dreaded returning.
"Every Sunday morning began the dread feeling in the pit of my stomach, as I prepared for the 6pm church service and drop-off, that signalled the next week of hell at Dilworth."
His second year he described a "Lord of the Flies" culture.
"There seemed to be an absence of supervising staff and it was a free-for-all of violent physical assault with the rules being made up by the older boys - a real 'Lord of the Flies'."
During his first year he was noticed by the Very Reverend Peter Taylor, who was married with young children. Taylor is now dead.
Taylor was also known as "Pumper Pete", a "kind of paedophilic reference", Harding said.
"I had my alarm bells up, I suppose.
"It was nice to receive positive attention from him, because it was rare at Dilworth and made me feel special.
"I was starting to learn about and believe in God and thought that one day I might even consider becoming an Anglican Minister."
He started to spend a lot of time with Taylor, even going on a private plane ride with him.
One day he was invited to his house, alone.
In a room he sat him down in the corner, trapped, and said he "wanted to speak to me about God".
Taylor then touched Harding inappropriately, prompting Harding to fight him off, and leave the house.
Telling on Taylor, known at the school as "pimping", was never an option, said Harding, due to the strong "code of silence".
"The Dilworth motto may as well have been, 'cop it and shut up'.
"I remember racing back to my house feeling terror of the fact that what I thought was safe wasn't, and feeling like a bit of an idiot really too, that he was 'Pumper Pete'."
He knew of another older student who was allegedly sexually abused by Taylor, but died 10 years ago.
Harding said he would likely have presented to the commission, which was another motivation to share his own experience.
Harding also told of a sporting coach, who one day told him: "'I want to cane you'."
"The canes were lined up like pool cues in a rack. He took them one at a time, bent them in half.
"He picked the thin one, and proceeded to cane me.
"Someone that's supposed to be protecting me, has a duty of care for me, is playing some sadistic game."
Soon after, Harding pleaded with his mother to leave the school, and in 1979 she agreed and he started at co-ed Takapuna Grammar.
The abuse and experience at Dilworth had a lifelong impact on Harding, "one of lost opportunity, melancholy and sadness".
He lost his faith, and in recent years is only just coming to terms with the abuse, attending regular counselling.
"Since the age of 12 and for the last 43 years, even as I stand here now, I observe every Anglican representative and wonder, are you a wolf in sheep's clothing? Are you a complicit harbourer? Are you a paedophile?"
He approached police about Taylor in 1997, concerned he could be continuing to abuse boys, but found a lack of interest from officers, and the process "invalidating".
The officer did, however, check the database and confirmed Taylor was a convicted paedophile.
In 2018 he made submissions to the school board, sparking a process of fellow students coming forward.
At a meeting of old boys he learned some "startling revelations".
"This new information gave missing pieces to the jigsaw suggesting collusion by staff, and, along with other confidential information, the possible existence of a paedophile ring."
He had never sought any legal or financial redress, only to ensure the abuse was recognised, and support put in place for fellow Dilworth students who had been abused.
He queried why even after Taylor had been convicted as a paedophile, dismissed from the school, nobody ever approached him in relation to whether anything happened to him.
He called on the commission to look carefully at the relationship between the Anglican Church and the school, and past approach of "sweeping under the carpet" allegations and moving perpetrators along.
"Dilworth was complicit through their knowledge of abuse as well as their inaction," Harding said.
"I hope today's 11-year-olds do not have to wait until they are 55 to be heard."
"I saw the priest as being of God"
Earlier today, Marlborough parishioner Jacinda Thompson shared her experience of fighting with the Anglican Church over 15 years to get redress and an apology for sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a priest.
Over 2004 and 2005, Thompson, trying to deal with the traumatic loss of a young child, started attending the Nativity Anglican Church in Blenheim.
She sought the support of Reverend Michael Van Wijk, but instead was sexually harassed and abused, and psychologically bullied under the guise of grief care and spiritual guidance.
Van Wijk was a trusted man of God, about 10 years older than Thompson, and "wielded a lot of power over me".
"He told me that he could actually see a vision of Jesus cradling my deceased son in his arms.
"Priests have a lot of power, their role as a representative of God, is an almost supernatural power
She told her partner about the abuse, and thus begun a long and traumatic process to seek recognition of the abuse, redress and an apology.
When she approached Vicar Richard Ellena she found he was not surprised.
"The Vicar guessed it was [Van Wijk] before I even said his name."
She had a meeting with Ellena and Bishop Derek Eaton, and was told her abuse was "pretty low end compared to what was going on overseas".
At another meeting with Ellena she was warned to keep the abuse secret, him saying "if this goes public 10 years of my ministry to build up the numbers in this place will go to waste".
Over this time the Church refused to be held liable for clergy, saying they were not its employees but were essentially employed by God.
She lodged a police complaint in 2014, but in 2016 they concluded no charges would be laid against Van Wijk.
Thompson said the investigation was inadequate, with the church leaders she complained to in 2005 not even contacted.
She then took her case to the Human Rights Review Tribunal, where the Church admitted it was responsible, receiving a landmark settlement and apology, including an acknowledgement the Church can be held to account for its ministers' behaviour.
The Church paid Thompson $100,000 in recognition of the gravity of humiliation and hurt she suffered, and in recognition of its flawed handling of the complaint.
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