Commission of inquiry hears 12-year-old student told to ‘stop’ relationship with sexually abusive teacher

About 36 years after being sexually assaulted by one of his high school teachers, Sam Leishman stood up in a courtroom and read a statement detailing the impact on him.

CONTENTS WARNING: This story contains details that can cause distress.

It was a turning point for him. He was no longer a terrified boy who didn’t understand what was happening.

“I was nervous about it. I was told to bring some props and I didn’t because I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll just throw up or start crying or get myself wet or something. I’ll just be a fool of ‘so I just went along with my statement on my own,’ Leishman told the Tasmanian Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry on Friday.

“I remember standing before the judge and the court… [and] I suddenly felt like the tallest person in the room.

Leishman was a 12-year-old student at New Town High when he was repeatedly sexually assaulted in the late 1970s by a teacher he admired, Darrel George Harington.

When other boys at school found out that he was spending time with Harington, one said to him, “How did it feel to suck Harington’s cock last night?”

That was the beginning of bullying that isolated him and made his high school life hell.

“A few days later, one of the other teachers at my school pulled me aside, and the words were basically, ‘I don’t know what’s going on between you and Mr. Harington, but obviously something’s going on and you have to make sure it stops.” Mr Leishman told the committee.

“You were given the responsibility to stop it?” asked Commission President Marcia Neave.

“Yes,” replied Mr. Leishman.

‘Shit, that happened to me’

He told the committee that he was afraid his parents would find out and how Harington had gained his parents’ trust.

However, it was not until much later in his life that Mr. Leishman realized that what was happening to him was child sexual abuse.

He was 48 years old, feeling down about things that had happened in his life, and, as he said he always did when he felt down, he thought back to what had happened to him when he was 12.

†[I] blamed everything that was happening in my life right now on events going back to when I was 12,” he said.

On the news that night, Mr Leishman saw then Prime Minister Julia Gillard give an update on the work of the National Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse.

It was a “light bulb moment” for him, Mr Leishman said, and out of curiosity, he began reading statements on the royal commission’s website.

Leishman contacted the royal commission and during that process he was contacted by the police and discovered that other children had also been abused by Harington.

In 2015, Harington pleaded guilty to – and was jailed for – the sexual assault of several boys in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

A bearded man stands behind a window
Sam Leishman had no access to information about himself and his time at school.ABC News: Luke Bowden

‘Completely thwarted’ when trying to get information

Mr Leishman’s story did not end there, however. He thought the Department of Education might want to talk to him to understand how Harington’s abuse could have happened. He also had questions of his own.

He wrote to the then Secretary of Education, Jeremy Rockliff, in 2015 to request a meeting, but it took two years to arrange a meeting with the department’s deputy secretary to learn.

Mr Leishman said at that meeting he felt that “to a certain extent he was being listened to”.

As for his own questions, Mr Leishman said he felt “completely hampered” by the process of obtaining information.

The right to information became impossible for him because he needed Harington’s permission to release some of the information.

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