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In 2014, a Melbourne headmaster supported a coach who groomed a student. Now, he's resigned.

This post deals with child sex abuse and might be triggering for some readers. 

The headmaster of a prestigious Melbourne Catholic boys’ school has resigned after it was revealed he gave a glowing reference to an athletic coach who groomed a Year 9 student.

In a letter to parents, St Kevin’s College headmaster Stephen Russell said he was resigning to prioritise the wellbeing of the school and its students.

“In my time at St Kevin’s I have always tried to put the school before self and the students’ wellbeing at the very top of my list of priorities,” he said in the letter obtained by the ABC.

Paris Street was groomed by an athletic coach at St Kevin’s College. Post continues below video.

Video via ABC

“I believe the current situation means that the best way to achieve this is to resign.

“I extend my best wishes and encouragement to the current student body to be ‘good people’, the way so many who went before them have been across the decades.”

He thanked the school community for their support and added that his family’s “wellbeing and safety and long term happiness have also been factors in my decision.”

Russell gave a character reference for athletics coach Peter Kehoe at the end of his criminal trial, leaving his victim feeling “gutted” and “betrayed”, ABC’s Four Corners reported this week.

Russell expressed “sincere regret” and had told the program supplying the reference in 2014 was an “error in judgement”.

In 2013, Paris Street was a Year 8 student and promising runner. His coach was Kehoe, himself a St Kevin’s old boy who had been coaching at the school for decades.

At the time, the ABC reported 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 raised concerns with the school’s welfare officer after Kehoe convinced Paris to train with him alone.

paris street st kevin's college four corners
Image: ABC.
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"She rang me back and she said 'Mr Russell just wants you to know Peter is a person of good character and you have nothing to worry about,'" Caroline Redmond told Four Corners.

Around the same time, Kehoe began to send her son inappropriate Facebook messages, including: "Hot stuff. I bet you would have won a wet [t]-shirt competition!", "Maybe you needed another hug from me," and "Love you. Xxxxxxxx".

During one private training, Paris told Kehoe about an oral Japanese presentation he needed to finish, and Kehoe replied that that was not the only oral he needed to do.

Paris told Four Corners he felt "very uncomfortable, but I felt like I was in a position where I couldn't do anything".

Kehoe suggested Paris come to his house to look at some of his old St Kevin's yearbooks, where he showed Paris photos of former St Kevin's students who had died by suicide after alleged abuse.

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He showed Paris his bedroom, saying he was free to jump in his bed any time he liked.

"It was probably one of the most scary times of my life," Paris recalled, telling journalist Louise Mulligan the coach invited him to engage in a sex act before his mother called, meaning Kehoe was required to drive him home.

Paris told his friend Ned O'Brien, who told his mother Jo O'Brien. After Jo spoke to Paris' mother, Paris made a statement to police.

In October 2014 Peter Kehoe was charged with grooming for sexual conduct with a child under the age of 16.

The school's dean of sport Luke Travers defended his friend, describing Kehoe in a written reference as 'second to none', saying his "commitment, enthusiasm and reliability" was "faultless".

peter kehoe st kevin's college four corners
Peter Kehoe. Image: ABC.

At the time, Paris' case was not made public because he was a child. Now 20, he wanted his story to be told.

According to Ned's mother, Russell phoned her on the morning of the trial and asked if the boys were going to wear their St Kevin's blazers.

"I thought, 'Wow, you really do want to cover this up'," she told Four Corners.

Paris, 15 at the time, was cross-examined by formidable barrister Robert Richter QC, who represented Cardinal George Pell at trial, for two days.

On April 30, 2015 Kehoe was found guilty of grooming and sentenced to a community corrections order and registered as a sex offender for eight years.

Russell provided the magistrate with a post-conviction reference at the request of Kehoe's lawyers. In it, the headmaster noted how Kehoe had served the school for 35 years.

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Following the trial, Paris struggled during his last years of schools. After learning of his headmaster's reference for Kehoe, he felt "gutted".

"Gutted, and just flicked off. Like, 'this is how we think about you, we don't care.'"

paris street st kevin's college four corners
Paris Street as a St Kevin's College student. Image: ABC.

He suffered anxiety and panic attacks, needing psychiatric treatment

"Mum would drive me to school in the morning. Driving on the Boulevard, and then you’d see the big cross on the chapel that overlooks the Yarra – I’d see that and I’d just get triggered and would have a panic attack and would not want to go to school," Paris said.

"I wouldn’t want to go to sleep at night because I wouldn’t want to get up in the morning to go to school."

He settled a civil claim with the school in August 2019, and wanted to tell his story in order to move on.

"I don't think I would be able to live the rest of my life without telling anyone, just for my own personal healing," he said.

"It's something that I think a lot of people should know about because it affects everyone. It can affect anyone, and it affected me."

St Kevin’s had been preparing for the Four Corners report, the latest in a string of negative attention for the school.

In 2019, Russell wrote a letter to parents about another historical sex 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," Russell wrote.

Paris' friend Ned told the ABC that statement was "incredibly hypocritical given what he did in 2015".

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In late 2019, a group of boys in St Kevin's school uniform were filmed chanting a sexist and derogatory chant about women on public transport.

The video went viral, bringing to light an underbelly of sexism at the Catholic school.

"I wish that all the ladies/Were holes in the road/If I was a dump truck/I'd fill them with my load," the call-and response chant went.

The Four Corners report spoke to past students and female students of nearby Melbourne schools about the attitudes of St Kevin's students towards women.

It also reported that after George Pell was found guilty of abusing two 13 year old boys, an article was published on the St Kevin's website written by Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

In it, Brennan said it was "surprised" and "devastated" by the verdict, and that he prayed Pell was not a scapegoat victim.

Late last week, Russell wrote to parents about the upcoming Four Corners program. It included lines from a poem by Irish poet John O’Donohue.

"This is the time to be slow/Lie low to the wall/Until the bitter weather passes."

Watch the full investigation by Louise Milligan on ABC.

If this post brings up any issues for you, you can contact Bravehearts (an organisation providing support to victims of child abuse) here.

If you are concerned about the welfare of a child you can get advice from the Child Abuse Protection Hotline by calling 1800 688 009, or visiting their website. You can also call the 24-hour Child Abuse Report Line (131 478).

Feature image: ABC.