Dame Silvia Cartwright to lead Dilworth abuse inquiry

Laura James
Source: 1News

Former Governor General Dame Silvia Cartwright has been appointed as the head of an independent inquiry into abuse at Auckland's Dilworth School.

Dilworth School in Auckland.

The boy's boarding school has also announced high-profile human rights lawyer Frances Joychild QC will join as the co-inquirer.

The news is being welcomed by a class action group of 130 former students, alleging the school failed to protect them from systemic abuse.

It has spent over a year pushing for the inquiry.

It comes as a trail of former teachers have appeared in court, facing historical sex crime charges.

A total of 12 men connected to the school have been charged, through a police investigation called Operation Beverly.

One of them, former music teacher Leonard Cave, was found guilty by a jury just last week.

READ MORE: Former Dilworth teacher guilty of sexually abusing students

The Dilworth Trust Board consulted with victims on its plans to address historical offending earlier this year.

Chairman Aaron Snodgrass called the appointments, announced on Thursday, a "milestone" in that journey.

The school's also announced the terms of reference for the inquiry have been finalised by Cartwright and Joychild.

Attempts to conceal

The inquiry will be able to look at abuse claims from as early as 1950.

It will consider 'whether there were any attempts made to conceal or suppress knowledge or reporting of instances of abuse'.

The school must provide information in its possession or control, on request by the inquiry team.

Dilworth Class Action spokesperson and survivor Neil Harding is pleased with the confirmation that "the inquiry heads have the mandate to undertake a robust and comprehensive investigation that is independent of the school to uncover the full extent of the knowledge and actions of Dilworth staff and trust board members".

He said Dilworth has not been transparent about its records and what it already knew of abuse claims.

"Our team have uncovered a significant amount of evidence that details complaints made by the boys and their families and the schools’ conscious failure to address the offending."

He believes what the class action group has gathered so far is "just the tip of the iceberg".

"There is a lot of work to be done to ensure Dilworth is held fully accountable for completely failing to stop representatives of the school from sexually abusing the boys despite both staff and trust board members having extensive knowledge of the abuse and Dilworth and the trust board taking steps to cover it up for over 40 years."

Snodgrass is confident that the inquiry appointee's will ensure the process is conducted with the "utmost rigour, integrity and care."

He says the board and school are committed to learning from any findings and recommendations.

It's anticipated the inquiry will launch on July 1, with a report and recommendations to be delivered by the end of the year.

It will be made publicly available, subject to any redactions to protect survivors and comply with court suppression orders.

Redress programme

The Dilworth Trust Board says it's well advanced with confirming three independent panellists for a redress programme for old boy survivors of sexual and profound physical abuse.

It says the appointments will be announced later this month, as will the final terms of reference for the programme.

Harding said the class action group still have questions about the scheme, saying as it stands, it is "highly deficient in a number of fundamental areas".

The school was proposing to cap compensation at $200,000 for each survivor.

But Harding said, “It is critical that any amount awarded to survivors fully acknowledges the extent of wrongfulness and harm the school’s actions caused the survivors."

"This means Dilworth cannot be self-determining how much compensation each survivor is eligible to receive or require survivors to sign away their rights to bring legal proceedings if they accept a redress payment before the findings of the Inquiry are released."

He said the class action team's provided "substantive feedback" to Dilworth on the redress programme.

“The Dilworth class action team is committed to ensuring the redress programme is truly best practice, in the best interests of survivors and is agreed by a panel that is completely independent of Dilworth."

Appointments

Dame Silvia was New Zealand’s 18th Governor-General and the country's first female District then High Court Judge.

She's previously led the public inquiry into the Earthquake Commission’s handling of Canterbury earthquake claims, and the 1988 Cartwright Inquiry into cervical cancer treatment at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital.

Joychild is renowned for her advocacy and the class action group had already requested her involvement in the inquiry.

In 2021 she represented the interests of more than 300 Lake Alice survivors before the Royal Commission into Abuse in Care, and also conducted the 2015 Inquiry into the Royal New Zealand Air Force.