The Western Bulldogs have been ordered to fork out a $5.9 million compensation payout to a child sex abuse victim, after a Supreme Court jury ruled the club was negligent and failed to stop a paedophile who preyed on young boys.
After a three-week trial, the jury found in favour of Adam Kneale, who sued the club and claimed it was liable for lifelong damage he sustained at the hands of former Bulldogs volunteer Graeme Hobbs.
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The jury announced it would award $3.25 million for Mr Kneale’s pain and suffering, $2.6 million for loss of earnings, and a further $87,000 for medical costs.
The result is likely to cause financial strife for the AFL club, who will need to borrow funds to pay damages, its current chief executive Ameet Bains told the trial.
Lawyers for Mr Kneale claim it’s the largest jury payout awarded to a survivor of sex abuse.
Hobbs, who is dead, was described as a “sick and disturbed sexual predator” who groomed Mr Kneale and sexually abused him at the club’s Whitten Oval headquarters in Footscray and other locations between 1984 and 1990.
Graeme Hobbs, now dead, was involved in fundraising at the Footscray Football Club in the 1980s and early 1990s. (Supplied)
Mr Kneale, now 51, developed substance addictions, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety after the abuse, and his lawyers claimed he failed to fulfil his potential in the workplace because of the ordeal.
During the trial, Mr Kneale told the court he was a club waterboy when he first encountered Hobbs, who lured him with money and later exposed him to other paedophile rapists.
“I participated unwillingly, but I felt as though I had to,” Mr Kneale said during evidence.
“It was a messed up situation that I’m still struggling to come to terms with.”
Hobbs, whose nickname was Chops, was known for being a “jack of all trades” in his volunteer role at the club, and witnesses at the trial said he was regularly seen around junior change rooms.
Another witness, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said he too was sexually abused by Hobbs.
Meanwhile, former Bulldogs player Stephen Macpherson said Hobbs was “a pretty sleazy character”, while cheer squad member Gary Munn said people “didn’t feel safe around him”.
Club leaders denied knowing about paedophile’s ‘hidden evil nature’
Mr Kneale’s barrister Tim Hammond said there had been “a catastrophic failure of this football club to actually just see what was right in front of its face for more than a decade”.
However club leaders, including former chief executive Dennis Galimberti, denied knowing that Hobbs posed a risk to children.
Adam Kneale was a club waterboy at the time of the abuse.(Supplied)
Mr Galimberti and longtime ex-president Peter Gordon also told the trial they did not see a front page local newspaper story from 1994, which named Hobbs and outlined he was facing court for molesting a young boy at the back of the Whitten Oval grandstand.
Mr Gordon and Mr Bains told the court they only became aware of Hobbs’s offending in 2022 when they were contacted by ABC journalist Russell Jackson who was writing a story about Mr Kneale.
Jack Rush KC, acting for the Bulldogs, denied the club’s leaders at the time were negligent and said they couldn’t have known about Hobbs’s “hidden evil nature”.
“It is important to understand the club that existed 40 years ago. It is not BHP, it is not Manchester United, it’s a small semi-professional club that existed from hand to mouth over this era of time,” he told the jury.
In agonising detail, Jackson’s piece delved into how Mr Kneale’s life had been shaped by the abuse he suffered at the hands of Hobbs and other paedophiles, including John Raymond Wayland.
Mr Kneale said it was the birth of his daughter that led him to come forward and report Hobbs to police in the early 1990s.
“She inspired me. I wanted to be an example for her, that you’ve got to stand up and fight for yourself,” he said.
Hobbs died in 2009, aged 63. Wayland was jailed for 16 years by the County Court in 1996, and was living in regional Victoria last year.
Source: AFL NEWS ABC