Our Lady of Mercy College Heidelberg apologises after sex abuse claims

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A Melbourne girls’ school has apologised to former students after claims of historical sexual abuse were made against two former teachers.

Our Lady of Mercy College Heidelberg acknowledged the complaints and apologised to the victims in a letter sent to former students on Thursday.

“In 2020, following the tremendous courage of some of our former students, we were made aware of distressing allegations regarding inappropriate behaviour and criminal offences towards former students by former teachers who worked at OLMC during the 1990s,” principal Judith Weir said.

The school appointed independent organisation Safeguarding Services to investigate the claims which found “no reason to doubt the validity of the evidence”.

“[The report] documents numerous instances of highly inappropriate physical contact and improper verbal statements made by former teachers towards our former students,” Ms Weir said.

“We offer our unreserved apologies for the suffering and harm that was caused to these former students.

“We are deeply sorry that their harm was compounded by former senior members of the OLMC staff who may have failed to deal with the complaints appropriately.”

The details of criminal offences were not included in the correspondence so as to not affect police investigations.

Victoria Police was contacted during the investigation and has been given a copy of the findings.

The Safeguarding Services report said three former students came forward at the beginning of 2020 with complaints about a former teacher. The school has assisted Victoria Police and other regulatory agencies in investigating the man.

He was accused of touching students inappropriately, making inappropriate sexual remarks, entering change rooms while students were changing and openly comparing students’ breasts during class.

In August 2020 The Age reported former OLMC teacher Graham Partington had been sentenced to six years’ jail for offences including the rape of a 14-year-old student when he was her gymnastics coach in the early 1980s.

“Mr Partington had sexually offended against two female children before his employment at OLMC,” the report said.

“However, OLMC could not be aware of this, as these crimes were not reported to police until 2016, 14 years after Mr Partington had ceased employment at OLMC.”

Our Lady of Mercy students allege Partington groped them and touched them inappropriately. He was also said to have entered change rooms while students were changing. In 1989, Partington wrote to parents inviting students on the soccer team to his beach house for a weekend.

“Mr Partington was colloquially known as ‘happy hands’ amongst the student cohort due to his touching of students during physical education and sporting activities,” the report said.

Former teachers and students have said the behaviour of both men was known and formal complaints were made.

The report said “several concerns about the behaviour of Mr Partington and [the other teacher] were brought to the attention of senior OLMC staff; however, it appears little, if any, action was taken”.

Ms Weir said the school now had strict policies and procedures to safeguard students including appropriate complaints-handling procedures.

She commended the former students for coming forward.

“We hope this process can help bring justice and some relief and we are committed to supporting them in any way we can,” she said.

If this story has raised concerns for you, the following services can assist:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 lifeline.org.au

Sexual Assault Crisis Line: 1800 806 292 (free call)

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