Abused schoolboy took gun to school to kill rapist teacher

John Comerford took a loaded shotgun to his school, with a plan to kill his rapist. But he was told the teacher who raped him was already dead. Picture: Sam Ruttyn
John Comerford took a loaded shotgun to his school, with a plan to kill his rapist. But he was told the teacher who raped him was already dead. Picture: Sam Ruttyn


MORE than 30 years ago, John Comerford returned to the steps of De La Salle College with a loaded shotgun.

A tormented 18-year-old, he was going to kill the man who stole his life when he was just 11.

But Mr Comerford never got the opportunity to come face-to-face with Brother Anselm Hallam as an adult because as he sat on the steps of the southwestern Sydney school, he was told the teacher was dead.

He would spend the next two decades of his life harbouring the secret of his childhood rape, not telling a soul about the day Anselm caught him alone in the school's old church.

He was tidying up before a midweek service when he noticed a container of holy bread had been left out.

"I stood there eating it when I heard someone scream behind me," Mr Comerford said.

"As I turned, I saw Anselm coming towards me. He slapped me hard across the side of my head which knocked me off my feet to the ground.

"He continued to hit me around the head area and as I covered myself up crying … He grabbed me, placed his forearm across the back of my neck and started pulling at my pants.

"Then he started fumbling with something under his uniform, I thought he was getting his strap and all I could think of was he could only give me six (straps) and (that) I have had so many before. I was thinking I would be OK. Then he raped me."

That assault led Mr Comerford down the dark road of substance abuse, repeated suicide attempts and relationship breakdowns.

"I had been dependent on either drugs or alcohol for much of my life," Mr Comerford said.

"Last year I was ­finally diagnosed with severe depression, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder."

It's the typical life of a victim and heartbreakingly similar to all the child victims who are now suing the Revesby Catholic school for their alleged abuse in the 1970s and '80s.

They too had suffered at the hands of Anselm, who was allegedly moved from a school in Melbourne to Revesby following complaints of sexual abuse there. Some allege they were abused by other teachers at the school.

At the forefront of these cases is Jason Parkinson, of Porters Lawyers, who this week labelled the school a "hotspot of paedophilia in Sydney" back then.

"Men have complained to us that Br Anselm would routinely molest the entire class of children by having them stand up at the side of their desk, and have them unbutton their shorts and then go from one child to the next," he said.

"There are scores of men who are suffering from the serious psychiatric injuries of childhood sexual abuse.

"Everyone we meet has had suicidal ideations, a large number have actually planned their suicide and many have attempted it and been fortunate to have failed."

Mr Parkinson is handling more than 1500 cases against independent schools in NSW, including Trinity Grammar, Knox Grammar, St Patrick's at Goulburn and Newington College.

The Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sex Abuse, which launched in 2013, is ­expected to hand down its final report in December.

Mr Comerford only recently learnt Anselm was actually still alive at the time he visited the school in 1983, the teacher dying years later at age 92.

Now working as a fly-in fly-out employee in Western Australia, Mr Comerford said he knew it was for the better that he had spent decades thinking his abuser was dead.

However, learning Anselm had allegedly been moved from school to school following complaints had ­shattered him.

"If I had known earlier, I probably would have done something earlier," he said.

"As soon as I read that, I rang the solicitor straight away."

I had been dependent on either drugs or alcohol for much of my life. Last year I was ­finally diagnosed with severe depression, severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder

Responding to Mr Comerford's story, De La Salle reiterated its "unreserved apology to those who have suffered as a result of abuse endured at any of our facilities".

"What happened in the past is unacceptable and inexcusable," it said.

The 52-year-old said the best thing he ever did was finally talk about his assault, something he never shared, even with his mum, before she died.

He said meeting a good counsellor had been a key on his road to getting healthy, along with the love he had received from his four children and partner. "Life is still a struggle, however I have reconnected with my family, who have been fantastic about it all. I have a really supportive partner and a great counsellor who I can talk to about what is going on," he said.

"I am hoping my story does two things: firstly inspires others to come forward, because I honestly believed I was the only one, and secondly to get closure. I want the school to acknowledge they knew he was a paedophile and moved him to my school knowing that. That will leave me knowing I have done everything that I can to protect the 11-year-old version of me."

This article originally appeared on the Daily Telegraph.

News Corp Australia

Topics:  rape rapist school sexual abuse sydney

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