The church covered up the crimes of Brother John Laidlaw and gave him more victims. But now he is jailed

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 10 December 2019

The leaders of the Christian Brothers knew that Brother John Laidlaw was committing sex crimes against boys in Catholic schools but he was allowed to continue teaching, thus putting more boys in danger, a Melbourne court has been told. Brother Laidlaw (aged 80) pleaded guilty to sex-crimes against six of his victims. And he is STILL a member of the Christian Brothers. In 2019, a judge jailed Brother Laidlaw for sexually assaulting six boys at Catholic schools in Victoria between 1963 and 1984 .These six boys were not Laidlaw's only victims; these are merely the six who exercised their right to speak to police detectives.

During the court proceedings, the Melbourne County Court was told that, in 1973 when he was teaching in Ballarat (in western Victoria), a review by the Christian Brothers organisation found Laidlaw "unfit for the job" after "revelations of improper conduct" and "serious acts of indiscretion." The review noted a requirement for him to be closely supervised and doubted his ability to remain at the school.

However, Laidlaw taught at eight more Catholic schools (in Victoria and elsewhere) before retiring from teaching in 1993.

John Sutherland Laidlaw pleaded guilty to five charges of indecent assault and two of sexually penetrating a child over incidents in Melbourne and -southwestern Victoria from 1963 to 1984.

The charges against Laidlaw were regarding schools in three Melbourne suburbs and at Christian Brothers College in south-western Victoria.

The boys were aged between 12 and 17 and one was sexually assaulted on his birthday.

Laidlaw targeted boys he coached for sport. He molested them after offering sports massages for injuries they received in matches and at training.

One boy was cornered in a change room, caught taking money from another student's belongings. If he was "good" and kept quiet about the touching no-one would find out about the money, Laidlaw told him.

The most serious offending (in 1984) was against a then 16-year-old who was home sick from school. Laidlaw went to check up on him, took the boy to his bedroom and forced his penis into the boy's mouth. Laidlaw warned the boy that he wouldn't be believed if he reported the abuse.

Jailed

On 18 July 2019, Judge Peter Berman jailed Laidlaw for four-and-a-half years regarding these six victims, noting that Laidlaw could die in prison.

"You are going to jail for a finite number of years. Your victims will never be free from the effects of your exploitation of them," the judge said. "Had you done recently what you did so long ago, much longer sentences would have been imposed."

Laidlaw must spend at least three years and two months behind bars before being eligible for release on parole.

The Laidlaw matter was investigated by Victoria Police detectives from the Sano Taskforce (in Spencer Street, Docklands, Melbourne).

Broken Rites research

According to Broken Rites research, Brother John Laidlaw was originally from Adelaide. He has taught at more than a dozen Christian Brothers secondary schools in Perth, Devonport (Tasmania), Adelaide, Warrnambool (Victoria) and Melbourne. His Melbourne schools included: Parade College; St Kevin's College Toorak; and CBC St Kilda. This court case was confined to some of his Victorian victims. Any complainants from other States would be investigated by the interstate police.

Broken Rites has discovered that Br John Laidlaw's sexual abuse was mentioned in 2016 in the reports of Australia's national Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. Laidlaw appears in Case Study #23 (pages 15-29 and 123-135), where he is referred to as Brother "BWX". A senior Christian Brother has confirmed to Broken Rites that "BWX" is Brother John Laidlaw. The Case Study (regarding complaints about Laidlaw's offences at St Joseph's Christian Brothers College in Warrnambool, Victoria) indicates that Laidlaw (born in 1939) began teaching for the Christian Brothers in Perth in February 1958 but there were complaints there about his sexual abuse, so he was moved to Victoria in 1960 to teach at a Catholic school in Brunswick (a Melbourne suburb). The report says that, after six months at Brunswick, Laidlaw was transferred to Devonport (Tasmania). He was at Warrnambool (Victoria) from 1964 to 1968. Later he was in other Melbourne schools.

Broken Rites has found a report on the website of the Melbourne Age newspaper (1 March 2016) which says (referring to Laidlaw):

"Within two years of his first appointment in Perth in 1958, BWX admitted ordering at least seven boys to undress in his house, where he spoke of the function of genital organs and indecently assaulted them.<,/p>

" "BWX worked [in Victoria] in Brunswick, St Joseph's Christian Brothers College Warrnambool (in the Diocese of Ballarat), and St Kevin's College in Toorak.

"In 1994, Brother BWX was sent to the US for treatment for child abuse incidents.

"In 2003, during an interview with Towards Healing, BWX said he was warned seven years earlier by the then principal of St Joseph's not to "go one to one with boys or touch their genitals".

"Data produced to the royal commission reveals two people have made claims of child sex abuse against Brother BWX, which occurred between 1961 and 1976.

"The first allegation refers to a claim against him when he was 22 years old, four years after professing his vows."

A school's reaction

On 4 July 2019, the lay administration of Parade College in Bundoora (a suburb in Melbourne's north-east) sent a confidential message to parents regarding the Laidlaw court case, saying that anybody with a concern about child abuse should contact the Christian Brothers administration (with two Melbourne addresses given). The Parade College message did not give the contact details of the Victoria Police child-protection detectives but Broken Rites would tell victims that these detectives in Victoria are in the Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Teams (S.O.C.I.T.) which may be contacted via the Victoria Police headquarters.

On 17 July 2019, Parade College sent a confidential message to members of the Parade College teaching staff, urging them to keep quiet about the Laidlaw court case.

A student's suicide

A former student ("Basil") from St Kevin's College Toorak has told Broken Rites:

"I was at St Kevin’s when Laidlaw was there. We all knew what he was. He was always loitering in change rooms, offering lifts. A popular boy from our year committed suicide in the mid-1990s, for no reason known to any of his peers. He was a school and representative cricketer and others from our year level have mentioned recently that Laidlaw was involved in the representative cricket program. Subsequent to the charges against Laidlaw in court, many of us are now wondering if there is a connection. We have no evidence, no rumours - just joining some dots."

Broken Rites is continuing its research about Brother John Laidlaw and the cover-up.