Sunday, 20 Jun 2021

How did a man who preyed on children end up advising students at Melbourne Uni?

Over the months that Anders Villani was being groomed by a student adviser at Melbourne University, he was never entirely clear what was happening to him.

Villani, then 19, was starting his second year of an arts degree in 2008 and his interactions with the man he knew only as “Lindsay” seemed like a series of awkward and confusing encounters. Hutchinson was a “tall, dapper, eloquent, older man” who liked to take photographs, and who carried with him the authority of the university’s Arts faculty.

‘My blood ran cold. I had been groomed’: Anders Villani was a student at Melbourne University.Credit:Justin McManus

It all led, finally, to a strange night in the Travelodge hotel in Southbank. Villani is unclear exactly what happened that night and he didn’t think much of it until his partner’s horrified reaction to the story in 2017 prompted him to ask more questions.

Only then did Villani discover through the university that Lindsay’s full name was Lindsay Hutchinson, and that the former schoolteacher had been abusing his students for decades.

“My blood ran cold,” Villani says now. “That was when I knew that I had been groomed by, you know, a serial predator.”

Hutchinson is now serving a 12-year jail sentence for offences committed in the 1980s. Nobody knows how many other boys and young men he may have abused over decades as a teacher. But his history was not hard to find. It raises serious questions about the adequacy of university’s policies and police checks at the time he was hired in 2004, and the obligations of institutions to investigate historical cases of alleged or potential sexual abuse when offences by former employees come to light.

Child sex offender Lindsay Hutchinson (middle front) in his days as a teacher in Western Australia.

Hutchinson’s first record emerges from Durham, England, in the 1970s, where he abused and took explicit photographs of a 13-year-old. Then he moved to Perth, where he brutally raped a student over 18 months in the mid-1980s. Later still, in New Zealand, he was sacked from his job after collecting semen samples from high school students for “experiments with rowing performance”.

But the real giveaway for those at the University of Melbourne — who, in 2004, gave Hutchinson a job supporting students — should have been his conviction seven years earlier, in 1997, for indecently dealing with a 14-year-old under his care at Pulteney Grammar School in Adelaide. After that guilty plea, his teaching registration had been revoked and he’d been sentenced to jail.

When he was brought to trial in 2013 for the 1980s offences in Perth, Hutchinson told a court-appointed psychologist his move into the university sector was supposed to keep him away from teenage boys. But it did not. It put him in the path of Anders Villani. It also allowed him to complete a Doctor of Education that gave him close, unsupervised access to 442 high school students around Victoria.

A Melbourne University spokesman did not answer a number of specific questions about Hutchinson.

“We are committed to ensuring that the University of Melbourne is a place where all students, staff and visitors are safe and are treated with absolute respect and courtesy,” a university spokesman said after a series of email exchanges with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Asked whether it planned to investigate the former student adviser’s six-year tenure, the university declined to respond.

Skimpy white underpants

Anders Villani had just turned 18 and was a first-year student when he met Hutchinson. But it was not until the following year, 2008, that the older man approached him again. The Faculty of Arts was making a promotional brochure, he said, and he would like Villani, who had just won the university’s men’s tennis singles title, to take part.

“I was flattered, I guess,” says Villani. “He said someone would photograph me on a tennis court in my Melbourne Uni tennis shirt and then maybe some other shots around campus.”

But on the day of the photo shoot, Hutchinson led Villani to a makeshift studio in the university’s Arts Centre building, where he would be taking the photos himself.

“This is classic institutional grooming. An offender uses an institution to create trust, taking a role … to legitimise their authority.”

“There was a white sheet hung as a backdrop and he had a big old boxy film camera. On reflection, it was strange,” Villani says, but he recalls Hutchinson having an ability to make light of the situation.

“He had this self-deprecating, almost giggly manner where he would apologise for not really knowing what he was doing, sort of saying: ‘I’m not sure why the faculty get me to do this kind of thing, but someone’s got to do it’.”

When they met the following week to look over the photos, Hutchinson proposed another photo shoot.

Anders Villani, pictured in 2008, the year he says he was groomed.

“He said the Faculty of Arts had a scouting arrangement with … a local modelling agency, and every year the faculty selected a couple of students to be photographed,” says Villani.

The second photo shoot was in the same studio, alone with Hutchinson.

“He had a printout of poses he said had been sent from the agency that he was supposedly basing the shots off.”

Hutchinson also had a plastic bag with him.

“In that plastic bag was a pair of sort of skimpy white underpants,” says Villani. “I remember them very vividly because the brand was Pierre Cardin, and they were those classic white briefs that have the elastic waistband with the brand of the underpants on it.”

Hutchinson said the underwear had been provided specially for the shoot and that Villani could keep them afterwards.

“I vividly remember him telling me that, as though this were something really cool.”

In his 2013 rape trial, it emerged that Hutchinson had a long history of concocting fake photo shoots and “competitions” as a way of taking compromising pictures of his victims. An excerpt from the sentencing remarks reads: “You encouraged S to allow you to take pictures of him in various athletic poses, and in some white bathers you provided … Another ex-student gave evidence about being invited to try on the white bathers. He described the poses you asked him to adopt, and the photographs, which can only be described as pornographic, that you then took.”

After taking a number of photos with Villani clothed, Hutchinson asked him to change into the underpants.

Anders Villani at 19.

“The thing that sticks with me is how compromising and exaggerated the poses were,” says Villani. “I was sort of sitting down with one leg out and one leg up, sort of with my foot planted on the ground so that you know it was quite a close, direct view of my crotch.”

But, while he felt exposed, Villani says he never questioned the legitimacy of the photo shoot. “The way he explained things, it was always the faculty making the decisions. He was just the instrument for the faculty’s brochure idea and the arrangement with the modelling agency.”

The Age and Herald can confirm that the Faculty of Arts never produced a brochure in 2008 and Melbourne University has never had a relationship with the modelling agency in question.

“This is classic institutional grooming,” says UNSW’s Dr Michael Salter, a criminologist and expert in child sexual abuse.

“An offender uses an institution to create trust, taking a role and using the relationships within the institution to establish and legitimise their authority. And then they incrementally step over those boundaries.”

‘It was awkward’

Several weeks later, Hutchinson offered “dinner and a night in a fancy hotel” as a thank you “from the faculty”. But the fancy dinner with his girlfriend Villani had envisaged turned out to be a meal alone with Hutchinson in the Crown casino food court, followed by gelato. The hotel was a night in a twin room of the Travelodge with two single beds.

“I remember him having a shower and coming out changed into sort of long pyjamas,” says Villani. “It was dark, and it was awkward.”

Villani says the next thing he remembers is waking up in the morning, with Hutchinson asleep in the next bed. “I have no memory of anything happening while I was asleep or what he was doing. I fell asleep so I don’t know.”

That was Hutchinson’s last attempt to contact Villani. It was almost a decade before Villani discovered Hutchinson’s history of abuse.

“My initial reaction was shame and embarrassment, you know, that I hadn’t stopped him and figured it out when it was happening. Then I just felt violated, thinking of my 19-year-old self, letting him pose me whatever way he wanted in underpants that he’d given me.

“It wounded me deeply in a way that I’m still processing now.”

Police checks

But how did one of Australia’s most prestigious universities employ a convicted child molester as a student adviser in 2004 when a check of Hutchinson’s teaching credentials would have disclosed his 1997 conviction?

In 2005, the university updated its personnel policy to include staff police checks. In 2008, the policy was updated again to include Working with Children Checks for any staff who might have unsupervised “direct contact with children under 18 years of age”.

Still Hutchinson never faced any sort of check during his six years at the university. Its policy on Working with Children Checks hasn’t changed since. Asked how Hutchinson slipped through the net and whether anything had changed to prevent a repeat, the university declined to answer, saying it “has strict policies to ensure campuses and workplaces are safe areas for staff, students and visitors”.

Hutchinson’s position at the university also gave him authority for a different kind of activity. In 2004, he began a Doctor of Education degree through which the university granted him approval to interview 442 high school children from 20 Victorian schools.

In his thesis, completed in 2007, Hutchinson wrote that he initially intended to photograph and videotape the students, but ultimately decided only to use a voice recorder. Salter described the case as “absolutely alarming”.

“This is a man who was prohibited from registering as a teacher because of sexual offences and was able to use the research training process to gain access to very large numbers of children,” Salter says.

Asked why Hutchinson never underwent a background check before entering the schools, Melbourne University said “access to the schools would have been approved by the Department of Education and/or the relevant school” and that university ethics approvals don’t “grant access to schools”.

The Department of Education and Training disputed the university’s account, saying the university had a duty to ensure its researchers followed proper procedure and that the department could only approve research that it received applications for.

Hutchinson wrote in his thesis that he had contacted the schools directly to arrange research access, bypassing the departmental approval process.

“Child safety is and has always been a shared responsibility,” said a department spokesperson. “Organisations, including the University of Melbourne, must follow correct protocols and provide relevant information to schools and the department.”

Melbourne University has a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation.Credit:Wayne Taylor

The university did not address this comment from the Education Department.

“It’s not good enough to simply say ‘we have an ethics committee and that is the full extent of our obligation’,” says Professor Daryl Higgins, director of the ACU’s Institute of Child Protection Studies. “There are mutual obligations that all universities could and should put in place to … ensure the safety of children.”

Salter says the case “raises a huge question about institutional responsibility, for the university to acknowledge there has been a significant failure of process and make inquiries to follow up with those schools”.

Asked whether it planned to investigate the matter or attempt to notify the 20 schools involved, the university declined to respond.

An apology?

In 2017 and 2018, Villani contacted a lawyer and the police and says he was discouraged from proceeding. He also contacted Melbourne University several times, saying he had been groomed as an undergraduate by a staff member who was now a “convicted and jailed paedophile”.

A human resources manager encouraged Villani to access the university’s counselling service and said to “please advise if we can help in any way”. At no stage was Villani told that he could make a formal complaint and the university never investigated further.

In failing to investigate and advise Villani of his right to make a formal complaint, the university may have breached its own Appropriate Workplace Behaviour Policy, which imposes “a positive duty to eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation”.

A positive duty requires the university to take action when allegations are brought to its attention.

A spokesman for the university said it “remains committed to speaking to the student if the student feels comfortable to talk about their concerns” and “appreciates that is a decision for the student”. Asked whether it would issue an apology to Villani, the university declined to respond.

Despite Villani’s allegations and Hutchinson’s history of abuse, the university did not indicate any plans to investigate Hutchinson’s six years as a student adviser. Villani says it troubles him to think there may be more victims out there.

“Given his track record, it would be astonishing if I had been the only person that this happened to while he was at Melbourne Uni,” he says.

This story is co-published with The Citizen, a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism, University of Melbourne.

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