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Heath Lachlan's story

Heath attended a secular private school in suburban Melbourne during the 1980s. One of the teachers, Mr Langley, would take the older students on outdoor camps.

As well as the school camping program, Langley invited selected students to ‘private camps’ during the holidays, which ‘weren’t part of the curriculum’ and were ‘not to be talked about’.

Heath attended two of these private camps when he was around 12 years old, and was instructed to not tell other children and teachers about them in case they felt ‘left out’.

Langley sexually abused Heath during these trips. On one occasion Heath awoke to discover the teacher masturbating him. Another night Langley removed Heath’s underpants and massaged his buttocks for a prolonged period of time.

The boys were encouraged to skinny-dip, and the teacher took photographs of them doing so even when Heath objected. He also supplied them with alcohol, and spoke about how they should not be embarrassed if were sunbathing naked and got an erection.

When Heath was in his 20s, and Langley was still teaching at the school, ‘I started telling a few people what had happened to me. That got back to Mr Gilbert, the then principal. He wanted to see me, he didn’t know who I was’. At this stage Langley was still working at the school, and Heath disclosed the abuse to the principal.

‘I told him about my experience. He said, “Oh that’s great Heath, thank you for telling me. I always thought Mr Langley was a paedophile”.

‘But he thought he was a “psychological paedophile” – that was his term – in that he fantasised about children but didn’t necessarily act on it. He also said that parents of children had come to him and asked that he stop Mr Langley showering with their children naked ... It seemed like me coming forward had helped him make his mind up that Mr Langley should be sacked. He did sack Mr Langley.’

They discussed reporting Langley to authorities, but Mr Gilbert ‘was saying he had to talk to lawyers, talk about his position’. Mandatory reporting was in place in Victoria at the time, but it does not appear that Mr Gilbert reported the matter to police.

Heath asked Mr Gilbert not to disclose his identity, but heard that the principal then went around to some of the classes ‘and used my name ... my first name, and [said] that something had happened to me’.

At a later meeting Mr Gilbert said Langley ‘had asked him if he could leave due to a heart condition, so ill health’ and he had agreed to this.

‘So that was sort of the message of why he left. But then, I’m not sure, rumours might have started. But he went round to all of the secondary class, and informed them that Mr Langley was actually a “low-level” paedophile - I don’t know how you can have levels ...

‘So you had this strange situation where he was telling the parents of the broader school that he was leaving due to bad health, but then ... he told the children that he was a low-level paedophile. So I found that quite strange.’

Heath told Mr Gilbert he was concerned about the other boys who he suspected had been abused. ‘I said, “Perhaps it would be good if we contacted other people” ... I was worried there’d been other kids suffering in silence. He informed me that it would be best if I did that myself.’

Although upset at being given the responsibility of following this matter up, Heath contacted some of the other boys who had been on these camps. ‘I went and told them what had happened to me, and then asked them if anything had happened to them, which was all a bit difficult.’ He felt unsupported and found it exhausting to go over the abuse again and again, so only spoke to a few of them.

After his initial contact with the school they agreed to pay for his counselling, but ‘at regular intervals there were questions about “How’s Heath going?” to my counsellor ... There was a pressure there to wind things up, and eventually I did agree to wind things up.’

In the late 1990s Heath went to police himself and made a statement. The matter was investigated but no charges were laid. ‘I took it upon myself to sue the teacher, Mr Langley, at that point. Which I successfully did.’

Some years later Heath was contacted by police again. Another victim (who had been abused before Heath) had come forward, and Heath agreed to give evidence to support this man’s case. He provided supporting material, including documents he had obtained under freedom of information, but this was never returned to him.

Heath described the impacts of the abuse as depression, having difficulty maintaining work, and having problems with intimacy and relationships. He developed social anxiety, particularly in situations where children were present or sexual topics were being discussed, and as a result avoided social situations. Over the years Heath has utilised gambling and an ongoing addiction to alcohol and prescription drugs to cope. Recently he settled a financial claim with the school.

After reading social media posts from former students at the school, some of whom were also abused by Langley, Heath needed to return to counselling. Further criminal proceedings against Langley are now pending.

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