The Chronicle

EX-TEACHER ORDERED TO PAY $1.5M

Former teacher, now Toowoomba restaurate­ur, sued over abuse claims

- VANESSA MARSH

A SUPREME Court Justice has been scathing in criticism of a former Toowoomba Grammar School teacher who engaged in a sexual relationsh­ip with a teenage student in the mid-1990s and then lied about it, leaving the now 29year-old man with mental health issues.

Justice Soraya Ryan ordered

Meredith Rawlings pay almost $1.5 million in damages to the complainan­t man.

AN “UTTERLY selfish” Queensland private school teacher has been ordered to pay almost $1.5m in damages to an ex-student after a court found in civil proceeding­s that she sexually abused the vulnerable boy and lied about it for decades.

The Supreme Court ruled former Toowoomba Grammar School teacher Meredith Rawlings seduced and sexually abused her young student Nicholas Brockhurst from 1996 to 1997, starting when he was aged just 13 and she was 29.

Rawlings, now a high-profile Toowoomba restaurate­ur, emphatical­ly denied any wrongdoing, claiming the allegation­s were a “fantasy” and that she had merely been trying to support the boarding school student.

But in a scathing judgment delivered on Friday, Justice Soraya Ryan slammed Rawlings’ account as “laughable”, finding she was not a credible witness, had offered “constructe­d explanatio­ns” and had been “disingenuo­us” in her attempts to minimise her financial status to the court.

Justice Ryan found Rawlings’ conduct with the teenager who could not legally consent amounted to sexual abuse.

“I found that Mrs Rawlings’ sexual abuse of Mr Brockhurst caused him personal injury, including a depressive disorder,” she wrote.

“He has suffered economic and non-economic loss because of her abuse of him.”

Rawlings has been ordered to pay damages of $1,456,524 plus legal costs yet to be determined. “The defendant’s utterly selfish conduct included her sexual pursuit of the plaintiff, even after she had been warned to keep away from him,” she said.

Justice Ryan said Mr Brockhurst had been a credible and reliable witness “who gave a compelling account of his grooming and seduction by the defendant, without embellishm­ent”.

“The plaintiff described a very believable progressio­n of intimacy over time, initiated by Mrs Rawlings, although he did not need much persuasion to have a sexual relationsh­ip with her,” she wrote.

“Indeed, his frankness about how good the relationsh­ip made him feel as a schoolboy added to his credibilit­y.”

Justice Ryan said in contrast, Rawlings “did not impress me as a credible witness”.

“The defendant had what sounded to me like a constructe­d explanatio­n for every incriminat­ing piece of evidence in the plaintiff’s case,” she said.

“Neverthele­ss, her evidence left me with little doubt that the plaintiff was telling the truth about her sexual abuse of him.

“Some of her explanatio­ns were laughable …”

Justice Ryan was critical of Rawlings’ attempts to minimise her financial status and her involvemen­t in the restaurant business as “disingenuo­us”, saying she found Rawlings was “a woman of reasonable financial means but was reluctant to admit it”.

In a statement to media, Mr Brockhurst said he was relieved the matter was over and he hoped his story would encourage other victims of similar situations to come forward. “It’s been a long time coming but today I am breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing the court has believed me,” he said. “Pretty much my whole life I’ve had to deal with this by myself, it’s been a nightmare. I was a normal kid but after the relationsh­ip started I plummeted and I was robbed of a normal life. I hope that anyone out there who is placed in a vulnerable position can now know they will be believed and can speak up.”

Outside court Mr Brockhurst’s lawyer Callum Copland of Shine Lawyers welcomed Justice Ryan’s decision.

“Nick never intended for his personal life to be played out in a courtroom but the continual denial by the defendant and her conduct in this matter left him no choice,” he said.

 ?? Picture: Dan Peled ?? Meredith Rawlings has been ordered to pay $1.5m to her former student Nicholas Brockhurst.
Picture: Dan Peled Meredith Rawlings has been ordered to pay $1.5m to her former student Nicholas Brockhurst.
 ?? Pictures: Dan Peled ?? Meredith Rawlings and (inset) Nicholas Brockhurst.
Pictures: Dan Peled Meredith Rawlings and (inset) Nicholas Brockhurst.

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