Former Olympic rower Rob Hamill has come out in support of the two St Bede's College students at the centre of a legal storm.

He said the school's decision to dump Jordan Kennedy and Jack Bell from the rowing team for breaching Auckland Airport security was overkill.

The boys' parents had sought an urgent injunction from the High Court at Christchurch to allow their sons to row in the first race yesterday.

Justice Rachel Dunningham granted it yesterday morning.


The families said they took legal action because they believed the punishment was disproportionate to the behaviour.

Hamill said the punishment outweighed the boys' crime of riding the Jetstar carousel at the domestic terminal on Friday.

However, legal experts and school principals have expressed concern over the legal steps taken by parents to get their banned children back on the rowing team, and fear it could set a "dangerous precedent".

Meanwhile, the school's board of trustees issued a statement this evening which said it stood by its decision over Jordan and Jack.

"The board members present at the meeting were unanimous in their disappointment that two of the parents of St Bede's College have taken legal action against the school," chairman Warren Johnstone said.

"The board members were also unanimous in their support of rector Mr Justin Boyle.

From what the board has been advised, the decision to withdraw the boys from the Maadi Cup Regatta and return home was made after what Mr Boyle and the senior management believed was a full investigation, and consideration of an appropriate penalty."

Worrying message

Denise Torrey, president of the Principals' Federation, expressed "major concern" about the decision.


She said it sent a worrying message to other children, and other schools.

"The children have learned nothing, except if you don't like something, you lawyer up," she said.

Dr Chris Gallavin, dean of law at Canterbury University, was surprised the injunction was granted.

He believes it could set a precedent for other parents challenging the decisions of schools.

But he hoped that judges would give "a wide margin of appreciation" to schools and their ability to regulate the behaviour of young people.

Dr Gallavin criticised the parents for taking their fight through the courts.

"It's just not an appropriate circumstance for the courts to be involved," he said.

"The courts have been put in an incredibly difficult position. They look like they have been overly officious, but they just have to adjudicate on the problem that has been put before them."

Old boys split

The boys' parents will now have to submit a formal statement of claim by tomorrow to continue the interim injunction for the remainder of the regatta.

If they don't, the injunction lapses, and the school's ban comes back into effect.

The St Bede's lawyer, Andrew McCormick, said the board of trustees were meeting to decide the school's next steps in anticipation of the parents' statement of claim.

Meanwhile the banning of the students has split opinion among the school's large contingent of old boys now at Parliament.

The MP for West Coast-Tasman, Damien O'Connor, who started at St Bede's in 1971, said he thought the school's decision to ban the students was an overreaction.

"Give the guys a break - if this is the worst they have done while they are growing up, we have all become a bit sensitive."

The court action was not a productive process for the families involved or the school, he said, but hopefully everyone would learn from it.

The Maadi Cup was a big rowing event, and the ban would have affected the two students' teammates as well, he said.

St Bede's was a good school, Mr O'Connor said, but he made mistakes himself while a student there.

"The boys who thought they were all perfect went to Christ's College. You can quote me on that."

Serious breach

But fellow Labour MP Clayton Cosgrove said his sympathies were firmly with the school, and he could not understand the mind-set of the parents bringing legal action.

The facts of the case were not disputed, Mr Cosgrove said, and breaching aviation security was serious.

During his time at the college Mr Cosgrove said he got into his fair share of trouble.

"And I know damn well which side of the line my parents would have come down on, and that was with the school ... I'm sure critics would be in, boots and all, if the school had done nothing.

"It says something about our generation where the school has to go to the extent of having to go and have codes of conduct - sort of contractual arrangements - with the pupils and parents."

St Bede's old boys at Parliament include Mr O'Connor, Mr Cosgrove, Speaker David Carter, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee and National MP Matt Doocey and United Future leader Peter Dunne.

Mr Doocey said he did not have a strong opinion on the row.

"I think really it's probably best served between the parents involved and the school.

"I can only reflect when I was at school back in the 80s, and your conduct was a decision on whether you would be playing sport on the weekend. So in that way nothing has changed. It does make me think, how do we move forward now with decisions that school will make."

Mr Brownlee, who is the most senior St Bede's old boy in Parliament and had his own brush with airport security last year, refused to comment when approached on his way to a caucus meeting this morning.

'Harmless prank'

Mr Dunne has tweeted his support for the boys. While there actions were not "a harmless prank", Mr Dunne said it was "not for the school to resolve".

"The boys' irresponsible conduct is for their parents, Police and Aviation Security to deal with, not the college," he wrote.

"Schools often assume too much authority in cases like this for reputational reasons only."

A spokesman for Mr Dunne said he would not make further comment on the matter.

Mr Carter could not be reached for comment.

Former St Bede's College students now in Parliament:
• Gerry Brownlee
• Peter Dunne
• Clayton Cosgrove
• Damien O'Connor
• David Carter
• Matt Doocey

An earlier version of this story was illustrated with an incorrect photo. A photo supplied by a freelancer that was captioned Jack Bell was actually of Harrison Joseph. We apologise for the error.