Dilworth School sex abuse investigation: Ross Douglas Browne, former vicar, sentenced

Dilworth School sex abuse investigation: Ross Douglas Browne, former vicar, sentenced

Former Dilworth chaplain Ross Douglas Browne – described by his victims as a monster disguised as a Santa Claus-like mentor – has been sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison after admitting to abusing students at the Auckland school from 1987 to 2002.

Justice Kit Toogood ordered the sentence on Thursday, at the High Court at Auckland, after a two-hour hearing during which over a dozen victims stood in court or appeared via audio-video feed to confront the 73-year-old former vicar.

“What a disgusting human you are,” one man said, struggling to hold back tears during his victim impact statement. “You are the lowest of the low…the absolute scum of the earth.

“You’ll spend the rest of your life in a hell of your own creation.”

Dilworth School sex abuse investigation: Ross Douglas Browne, former vicar, sentenced

Ross Douglas Browne was chaplain at Dilworth School from 1979 until 2006. Photo / Michael Craig

Browne was appointed chaplain at Dilworth School in October 1979, responsible for religious education. He was the vicar of St Luke’s Church in Manurewa when police arrested him in September 2020.

He had also been involved in Scouts and amateur theatrical company the Auckland Gang Show.

Browne pleaded guilty in October to 16 charges involving 14 children and adolescents who were abused between 1987 and 2002. Most of the victims were between the ages of 12 and 16.

“Your offending turned my life upside down,” said one former student through tears. “You were the most enormous person I’d ever seen, and I looked up to you – figuratively and literally.”

Dilworth School sex abuse investigation: Ross Douglas Browne, former vicar, sentenced

Ross Douglas Browne was the vicar of St Luke's Church in Manurewa when police arrested him. Photo / Supplied

But within the “camouflage of [Browne’s] smile” lurked demons, the student said.

Another former student called him a pervert and a monster.

“I was shaken, physically and emotionally – and, like after an earthquake, I was changed,” the man said. “My innocence also died then.

“I know you will not get what you deserve, but your family will suffer as all of ours have…You’ll spend the rest of your life in a hell of your own creation.”

Another student recalled the pain of revealing abuse to his family, which “had gone over heaven and earth” to get him into the boarding school, which established to give fully-funded educations to boys from lower economic backgrounds.

The man said he turned to drugs, alcohol and gangs as he attempted to deal with the trauma later in life, but – like many of the others who confronted Browne on Thursday – he said he has worked hard to put his life back together.

“We were the chosen ones, the fortunate few,” explained another man of being chosen to attend Dilworth. “We were vulnerable. I was vulnerable.

“You had an aura of righteousness about you – a real-life Santa Claus. I was 11 when we met. I still believed in miracles.”

And as a result of his trust in Browne, he grappled with sexual dysfunction and his masculinity for years, and sabotaged every serious relationship.

Another man agreed, saying Browne “ripped apart my pride, ripped apart my promising future”.

A family member of another victim, addressing the courtroom via audio-video feed, described how difficult it was for the families of the victims as well as they learned their trust had been betrayed.

“As chaplain and priest, your role was far more than mentor,” she said, adding that he instead represented a “skewed and frankly evil representation of Christ”.

Dilworth School sex abuse investigation: Ross Douglas Browne, former vicar, sentenced

Ross Douglas Browne, 73, previously denied sexual abuse charges before today's guilty pleas. Photo / Michael Craig

A family member of another victim described her nephew’s high IQ, which she said was squandered after “five years at Dilworth suffering [Browne’s] despicable actions”. He instead left school early and spent years dealing with mental health issues, including self-harm, she said.

“He had the potential to go a very long way academically,” she said. “He should have been a medical doctor and would have been if not for your evil actions.”

Police announced the arrests of seven men in September 2020, the result of an investigation into historical abuse at Dilworth dubbed Operation Beverly.

By June of this year, police had spoken to 150 former students about the allegations.

Of the former students who came forward, 122 told police they were abused by teachers, tutors, housemasters, Scout leaders and chaplains at the private Auckland boarding school, which opened in 1906 with the aim of helping boys from disadvantaged families.

More than 100 charges have been filed against 12 men.

Three of the men have been found guilty, including Browne, and three have died while awaiting trial.

Justice Toogood reminded Browne before announcing the sentence that many of the Dilworth students were from broken homes, orphans or came from disadvantaged backgrounds in other ways.

“Many were extremely vulnerable,” he said. “From a position of considerable influence over the boys, you targeted your victims and groomed them… in which to satisfy your deviant interest in boys.”

Four of the men who came forward have ended up in prison due in part to the trauma they suffered, the judge said, adding that those who came forward “do not represent the full scale of your offending”.

“I acknowledge their bravery in coming forward to hold you to account, Mr Browne,” he said. “Your victims were robbed of their childhood.”

Where to get help:

Dilworth Trust Board chairman Aaron Snodgrass has encouraged Old Boys to contact the school if they need support, by emailing aaron@dilworth.school.nz

Victim Support 0800 842 846

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 – 0

Safe to talk: a 24/7 confidential helpline for survivors, support people and those with harmful sexual behaviour: 0800044334.

Mosaic – Tiaki Tangata Peer support for males who have experienced trauma and sexual abuse: 0800 94 22 94

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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