How St Kevin's College Supported a Child Sex Offender Coach to the Horror of His Student Victim
By Louise Milligan, Mary Fallon and Lauren Day
February 17, 2020
A top Catholic boys' school is facing accusations of a culture of cover-up, after revelations its principal and dean of sport gave references for a now-convicted child sex offender but gave no support to the victim during the court process.
St Kevin's College in Melbourne hit the headlines last year when its students were filmed singing a sexist chant on a Melbourne tram.
The incident tarred the reputation of the school and ignited wider debates about private boys' school culture.
In recent years, St Kevin's was also caught up in one of the biggest scandals to hit the Catholic Church. A jury found Cardinal George Pell guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral. The two victims were on scholarships at St Kevin's.
The headmaster of St Kevin's College Stephen Russell.
|PHOTO: The headmaster of St Kevin's College, Stephen Russell, declined to be interviewed. (St Kevin's College)|
The school has found itself at the centre of a new scandal, after Four Corners discovered that in 2015 its current headmaster, Stephen Russell, wrote a character reference for former coach Peter Kehoe, which was given to the magistrate after Kehoe's conviction for grooming a St Kevin's student.
The dean of sport at the college, Luke Travers, also gave character evidence for Kehoe at the trial.
Facebook messages reveal grooming
The victim, Paris Street, was in Year 9 at the time of the offending and was just 15 when he gave evidence at Kehoe's trial.
|PHOTO: Peter Kehoe was a life member of the St Kevin's Amateur Athletics club. (News Ltd/Newspix)|
Kehoe, a St Kevin's old boy himself, had been coaching at the school over a 40-year period.
At the time of arrest, he was privately training some St Kevin's boys who were members of the athletics club attached to the school.
In 2014, Paris's mother, Caroline Redmond, raised concerns about Kehoe coaching her son alone.
She said she was reassured in a telephone call from the school that headmaster Stephen Russell wanted her to know that "Peter is a good person, of good character, and you have nothing to worry about".
Kehoe's behaviour towards Paris became disturbing.
He told Paris he had an erection at training, said Paris's thighs were "gorgeous" and sent him numerous inappropriate Facebook messages.
"Hot stuff. I bet you would have won a wet [t]-shirt competition!"
"Maybe you needed another hug from me."
"Ah, the pain of unrequited love!"
"I think you're the best thing since sliced bread…"
"Love you. Xxxxxxxx"
When Paris told Kehoe he had a Japanese oral presentation due, Kehoe told him: "That's not the only oral you'll have to do."
After training one day, Kehoe insisted Paris come back to his place to look at some of his old St Kevin's yearbooks.
Kehoe then showed Paris his bedroom, telling him he was free to jump in his bed any time he liked. He asked Paris if he knew what "pre-cum" was and invited the 15-year-old to "lick it off any time [he] liked".
Within days of the incident at Kehoe's house, Paris and his mother went to police.
Cardinal Pell's lawyer hired to represent coach
Robert Richter QC, the formidable barrister who represented Cardinal George Pell at trial, was hired to defend Kehoe, and cross-examined Paris for two days.
|PHOTO: Robert Richter QC cross-examined Paris for two days in court. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)|
Paris left the school in 2014 after going to police but returned soon after the trial.
Neither Paris nor his friend, Ned O'Brien, who gave evidence, were contacted by the school in the lead-up to the case.
Paris told Four Corners when he later discovered Mr Russell had written the reference in support of his perpetrator, he felt "just gutted".
Details of Paris's case were not made public at the time because he was a child. Now 20, he wants his story to be told.
Paris's lawyer Judy Courtin was shocked by the school's handling of the case.
"It is quite extraordinary that a headmaster and a dean of sport in particular will basically disregard the vulnerable student and support an offender. I mean, what planet are we on?" she said.
|PHOTO: In Paris's final years at St Kevin's, he was suicidal and hospitalised for depression. (Four Corners)|
Ned's mother, Jo O'Brien, said she first heard from St Kevin's on the day of the trial, when a staff member rang to ask why her son was not at school.
Ned was due in court that day as a witness.
She said the headmaster then called and asked her whether Ned would be wearing the school's distinctive blue, green and gold-striped blazer to court.
"I thought, 'wow, you really do want to cover this up'," Ms O'Brien said.
|PHOTO: Paris Street (left) and his friend Ned O'Brien (centre) gave evidence at Peter Kehoe's trial. (Supplied)|
Kehoe was sentenced to a community corrections order and placed on the sex offenders register for eight years.
Then St Kevin's parent Susan Lackner wrote to the college when she discovered how it treated Paris and Ned.
"I was appalled. Absolutely appalled. This could have been my son, you know, could have been anybody's son," she said.
Dean of sport wrote employment reference for coach
Four Corners can also reveal the dean of sport at the college, Luke Travers, wrote a glowing employment reference for Kehoe after Paris's mother Caroline had expressly told Mr Travers about her son's complaint.
Victoria Police had already charged Kehoe with grooming for sexual conduct with a child under the age of 16 years.
When giving character evidence for Kehoe at the trial, Mr Travers was asked by the prosecution whether it was appropriate for a teacher or coach to send messages to a student saying "I love you" or "xxx".
He replied: "It depends on the context."
After the president of the St Kevin's Amateur Athletic Club committee expressed his disgust that Mr Travers was assisting the perpetrator instead of the boys, Mr Travers sent them an angry email saying, "bugger off and mind your own business" and threatened legal action.
'Nothing has been learned,' victim's lawyer says
All of this happened while the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was hearing apologies from Catholic institutions for poor handling of historical sexual cases.
"The knowledge was out there, these crimes were being exposed, they were horrific," Dr Courtin said.
"Nothing's been learned — and all at the expense of someone like Paris."
Last year, Mr Russell wrote a letter to parents about another historical offender who had been a Christian Brother at the school, speaking of a "zero tolerance for child sexual abuse".
"Our duty of care to students, past and present, is our top priority," Mr Russell wrote.
Ned believes that statement is "incredibly hypocritical given what he did in 2015".
|PHOTO: Former St Kevin's student Ned O'Brien supported Paris throughout his trial in 2015. (Four Corners)|
The college said in a statement that "the care and development of students, staff and the broader St Kevin's community is, and always has been, our first priority".
"The actions of Peter Kehoe were completely unacceptable and St Kevin's College strongly condemns them. After his conviction, he was immediately banned from entering the school or having any contact with the college or its students.
"For legal reasons, St Kevin's College is not able to provide any further comment at this time."
The Catholic education network Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) said in a statement: "Stephen Russell enjoys the confidence of EREA as the leader of St Kevin's College."
Paris settled a civil claim with the school in August 2019.