Sexual abuse survivor wants former boys' school principal stripped of Order of Australia award


Key points:

  • Abuse survivor Chris Stoker is campaigning for former BGS headmaster Max Howell to be stripped of his Order of Australia
  • From age 12, Mr Stoker endured years of sexual abuse by BGS school counsellor and serial child molester Kevin Lynch
  • Mr Howell died in 2011 denying any knowledge of any abuse

Chris Stoker is desperate to move on and find some closure decades after becoming a victim of the sick fantasies of serial paedophile Kevin Lynch.

Every day since he was a 12-year-old boy, Mr Stoker, now 50, has relived the abuse he endured at the hands of the serial child molester, who was a school counsellor between 1973 and 1988 at Brisbane Grammar School (BGS), one of Queensland's leading boys' schools.

The abuse lasted for three-and-a-half years.

Mr Stoker's older brother was also a Lynch victim — his abuse also started when he was 12 and lasted the same length of time.

Both men feel betrayed that the man whose job it was to protect them and scores of other young boys — then BGS principal Max Howell — refused to act when he was made aware of the predator's behaviour as early as 1981.

'Completely failed the children'

The Stoker brothers and many others were raped by Lynch in a locked room with a red flashing light signalling no-one should enter.

Chris Stoker said he was also physically assaulted by Mr Howell during those years.

Mr Howell died in 2011, denying knowledge of any abuse.

Mr Stoker has spent several months campaigning to have the former BGS headmaster stripped of his Order of Australia (OAM) for services to education, that he was awarded on January 26, 1986.

In 1990, Mr Howell was awarded an honorary doctorate by Griffith University.

Last October, Mr Stoker wrote to the university urging that title be revoked and the institution yesterday agreed to act, two days after being contacted by the ABC.

But Mr Howell's OAM still stands and is easy to find on the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 'It's an Honour' webpage.

"They are perpetuating his behaviour, continually recognising him for his failings for protecting children," Mr Stoker said.

"It makes a statement that it is OK to have done those things, that it is OK to have ignored children's pleas for help.

"I relive that abuse every day of my life and I do not need more reminders of that abuse being sanctioned by our Government."

Maxwell Howell
Dr Howell died in 2011 denying any knowledge of abuse.(ABC News)

Mr Howell was the headmaster at the prestigious school from 1965 to 1989 and was responsible for employing Lynch, who reported directly to the then-principal.

Established in 1868, BGS is a non-denominational day and boarding school for boys in years five to 12 and is Brisbane's oldest secondary school.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sex Abuse heard allegations through Case Study 34 that in 1981 witness BQH — a parent of a student at the school — told Dr Howell that Lynch had sexually abused his son.

BQH said Mr Howell ignored the complaint and had done nothing.

Commission finds allegations not investigated

In January 2017, the commission released its findings into Case Study 34, backing that claim.

"We find that BQH told Dr Howell that Mr Lynch had sexually abused his son BQJ," the report said.

"Dr Howell did not investigate the allegations and did not report the matter to the police or the board of trustees.

"In not doing so, he failed in his obligations to protect the safety and wellbeing of the students.

The commission also heard allegations that at one time Mr Howell interrupted an episode of sexual abuse in the counsellor's office and found the boy with his pants down, and called the boy a "sick individual".

Kevin John Lynch
Kevin Lynch sexually abused Mr Stoker for more than three years.(ABC News)

The student, witness BQA, said he had been blamed for the depraved encounters, not Lynch, and he felt emotionally abandoned.

Lynch was able to play out his molestation protected by the school, which had no formal policies to investigate sex abuse allegations.

The paedophile went onto abuse more than 80 boys both at BGS as a counsellor at that school between 1973 and 1988 and then at St Paul's School at Bald Hills, north of Brisbane, where he was a counsellor from 1989 to 1997.

In 1997, Lynch was charged with committing sexual crimes against dozens of children, but he killed himself during prosecution.

'Abuse of dozens of children'

Last year, Mr Stoker wrote to the Australia Day Honours Committee, the Governor-General's office and Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking the honour be removed for Dr Howell.

But in a letter from Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Ben Morton MP, Mr Stoker was told he had already been advised by the Australian Honours and Awards Secretariat that the Order of Australia was a society of living persons and membership ceased upon death.

While Mr Stoker stared at the honour on his computer screen, he told the ABC he felt angry and betrayed.

Chris Stoker sitting at a computer in his house.
Chris Stoker says he feels angry and betrayed when the honour comes up on his computer screen on the 2020 webpage.(ABC News: Lexy Hamilton-Smith)

"I feel the Australian Government and the Governor-General's office is perpetuating his [Mr Howell's] part in the abuse of dozens of children," Mr Stoker said.

"It is the removal of the recognition, and by doing so, it is acknowledging those people did the wrong thing — that they did not do what a normal, decent human being would do.

"I feel betrayed by someone who should have been protecting me.

"[Mr Howell] gets to keep his reputation, honour and his dignity, while the victims have to suffer feelings of shame and guilt every single day."

Screen shot of Australian Honours entry - Maxwell Arthur Howell, OAM for service to education in 1986
Website entry - Maxwell Arthur Howell - 1986 Australia Day Honours List(Department Of Prime Minister And Cabinet)

Mr Stoker said he first contacted Griffith University in October, requesting it revoke Mr Howell's honorary doctorate awarded for services to education.

"At that time I was a student at the university, struggling with alcohol abuse, anxiety, panic attacks and depression caused by the abuse," Mr Stoker said.

"I was going through an extremely dark period of my life — I was on the path to suicide, to be honest."

Griffith University revokes doctorate

After being contacted by the ABC on Monday, Griffith issued a statement yesterday.

"Griffith University has revoked the Doctor of the University (DUniv) award conferred on Mr Max Howell AM in 1990," the statement said.

"The decision follows the university being made aware of the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse in relation to Mr Howell's time as Headmaster of Brisbane Grammar School.

"The University has discussed the decision with Mr Howell's family."

Griffith is in the process of removing the doctorate from their official archival website.

Former school counsellor Kevin Lynch
Kevin Lynch sexually abused students at Brisbane Grammar School and St Paul's School at Bald Hills during the 1980s and 1990s.(ABC News)

Honour 'awarded under false pretences'

Another survivor of Lynch — 'Ben' (not his real name) — backed the calls for removal of both awards

"This isn't 'cancel culture' — quite simply Max Howell should never have received these awards in the first place," Ben said.

"If the facts of his professional misconduct had been known by the awards committee at the time of being nominated for the awards, the awards would never have been issued, so they were awarded under false pretences.

"It was a mistake to issue the awards and that mistake now needs to corrected."

'Enormous courage'

University of South Australia Professor Chris Goddard, has been working in child protection for 40 years, said he applauds Mr Stoker for his bravery.

"It takes enormous courage to do what he [Mr Stoker] is doing — to publicly acknowledge what has happened to him and that he has been so damaged," Professor Goddard said.

"To award someone and then say you can't take it away from them because he is dead — when it later transpires he [Mr Howell] covered up dozens of cases of awful abuse — it is just extraordinary.

"Nothing can be that difficult — we do need cultural change."

Former principal Dr Max Howell's name as it was on the indoor sports centre at Brisbane Grammar School in 2015.
Max Howell's name as it was on the indoor sports centre at Brisbane Grammar School, shortly before it was removed in 2015.(ABC News)

Professor Goddard said although Mr Howell was dead, this system was "living proof that people do not care about the victim's feelings".

"It is a constant reminder that ultimately [abuse victims] are low down the pecking order and to be brutal, it doesn't really matter," he said.

Professor Goddard said a letter to Mr Stoker written on behalf of Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "The safety of children is of the utmost importance to the Australian Government."

"So one way they can demonstrate it is showing that they will punish people — living or dead people — for crimes against children and covering up crimes against children," he said.

Professor Goddard said he was "appalled but not surprised" that Mr Stoker's campaign had failed so far.

"But it is wrong — completely and utterly wrong," he said.

'I just want it to stop'

Haunted by the depraved actions of Lynch for 36 years, Mr Stoker said he would continue his campaign to see Mr Howell "dishonoured" for his contribution to education.

"Unless we change today we are not going to change tomorrow — if we keep ignoring the past, then the future is going to be the same as the past."

In December 2015, Brisbane Grammar School removed Mr Howell's name from its sports centre building.

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