This article discusses sexual assault and self harm and may be upsetting. A 74-year-old former Dilworth teacher and housemaster has been sentenced to six years and three months’ imprisonment for historic sexual abuse of students in the early 1980s, as well as abuse of children after his tenure at the Auckland boarding school.

Photo: Abigail Dougherty/Stuff

Robert Howard Gladwin Wynyard used a cane for support as he stood before Justice Simon Moore today in the High Court at Auckland, nearly 10 months after he pleaded guilty to 11 charges involving children who were between the ages of 8 and 15 when they were groomed.

He later sat stone-faced as prosecutors read aloud victim impact statements from seven of his eight victims, one of whom described him as a “dirty paedo who took advantage of vulnerable kids” and another who described stabbing himself in the stomach with a steak knife at the age of 16 due to the emotional trauma that the teacher had inflicted on him.

“He messed me up so much,” said the later victim, explaining that he is reminded of the abuse every day as he sees the scar on his stomach and self-inflicted cigarette burn scars on his arms.

“I was ashamed and frightened,” he said of the first instance of abuse, adding that the second instance left him also feeling “like a piece of dirt ready to be washed down the drain”.

The charges included nine counts of indecency between man and boy and two counts of indecent assault on a boy under 12. They span 20 years.

Prosecutor Jacob Barry described Wynard today as “the second most prolific offender” of the many men who have been accused of sexual abuse at Dilworth.

Wynyard taught at the school from 1977 to 1983 and served as senior housemaster at the school’s MacMurray boarding house for the last three years of his tenure there.

He was arrested in 2020 as part of Operation Beverly, a long-running investigation into historical sexual abuse at the boys-only boarding school.

He was initially accused by three men of indecently assaulting them between 1980 and 1981. More accusers, however, have since come forward.

“The emotional harm stayed with me for years,” said a now 55-year-old victim who helped spur Operation Beverly after receiving counselling in 2019 and deciding to go to police.

He described Wynyard’s abuse as contributing to the end of his first marriage and to dark times that included contemplation of suicide.

All of the victims received $10,000 emotional reparation payments, which was described as the proceeds of Wynyard’s house sale. Many of them said they hadn’t touched the money and were either indifferent or angry about it — having been told the gesture could be used as a mitigating factor for Wynyard whether they accepted it or not.

“In my eyes, it is an example of him taking the power away from us,” one of the victims explained, asking the judge not to use the payments as grounds for leniency.

Defence lawyer Justin Harder told the court his client wanted to acknowledge the victims, as well as Wynyard’s role in what happened to them. He submitted an affidavit in which the retiree apologised for his actions.

Justice Moore commended the victims for “courageously committing their feelings to paper”.

“Your actions have had a profound and enduring impact on each of your victims,” he told the defendant before announcing the sentence. “The personal toll is immeasurable, and there can be little room for doubt it was you who was responsible for their world of pain.”

Wynyard had initially been scheduled for sentencing in December but the hearing was rescheduled due to the defendant’s recovery from hip surgery.

At least 30 people have been accused of historic sexual abuse at Dilworth in the years since Operation Beverly was launched, including 14 allegations of “student on student” offending, police have previously revealed to the Herald. More than 150 men have made allegations spanning five decades, from the 1960s to the early 2000s.

Not all of the allegations have resulted in arrests. For instance, nine suspects died before the investigation began. But 11 former staff members, ranging from tutors to a priest, have been arrested so far. Three of them have died.

In a statement released after today’s sentencing, Dilworth Trust Board Chairman Aaron Snodgrass acknowledged “the bravery and strength” of the victims who filed complaints with police.

“While this [sentencing] is a step towards justice for Old Boy survivors, nothing we can do today can undo the past,” Snodgrass said. “The Trust Board is deeply saddened and disappointed this offending occurred.

“Wynyard’s actions were a gross and complete breach of the trust placed in him by the Dilworth community.”

Where to get helpIf it’s an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111. • If you’ve ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on 0800 044 334 or text 4334. (available 24/7) • Male Survivors Aotearoa offers a range of confidential support at centres across New Zealand – find your closest one here.Mosaic – Tiaki Tangata: 0800 94 22 94 (available 11am-8pm) • Alternatively contact your local police station – click here for a list.If you have been abused, remember it’s not your fault.

By Craig Kapitan
Published in NZ Herald