Childhood sexual abuse survivor Adam Kneale has commenced legal action against the Western Bulldogs, lodging a Supreme Court writ seeking damages from the AFL club.
WARNING: This story contains descriptions of sexual abuse.
On May 1, an ABC Sport investigation revealed Kneale’s harrowing story of abuse at the hands of former Bulldogs fundraising manager and Under-19 room steward Graeme Hobbs, who subjected Kneale to horrific ordeals within the club’s offices and social club facilities at the Western Oval.
The abuse, which took place between 1984 and 1990 when the Bulldogs were known as Footscray Football Club, escalated to Hobbs exposing Kneale to a paedophile ring.
And the man described in court as the “ringleader” of those offenders, John Raymond Wayland, confirmed to ABC Sport that he’d briefly been a trainer at the Bulldogs and met Hobbs at the club.
Kneale’s lawyers, Rightside Legal, have lodged a writ seeking damages from the Western Bulldogs in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
Michael Magazanik, a partner with Rightside Legal, said in a press release that Kneale would “hold the Bulldogs to account for the years of abuse, which began when Adam was just 11 years old”.
“In 1993, when he was 21, Adam told his story to police, and Hobbs and another man were jailed,” Magazanik said.
“Despite local media reporting at the time, he has never had any support or contact from the club. Adam has lived with the consequences for nearly 30 years.
“Now he’s now going to focus on his family, his own mental health and his legal claim against the Western Bulldogs.
“Adam is the first person known to have sued an AFL club over child abuse, and is likely to be the first of many.
“AFL clubs are going to be forced to face up to their histories and deal with the survivors who are no longer children, but adults wanting justice and compensation for the terrible damage that was done to them.”
On May 1, Bulldogs chief executive Ameet Bains said the club was “shocked and dismayed” by Kneale’s story.
“What Adam was subjected to as a child, and the impact it has subsequently had on the remainder of his life, is heartbreaking and distressing,” Bains said in a statement.
“Football clubs should be a safe and enjoyable place for all people, especially children, so Adam’s experiences and the fact that elements of this abuse occurred at the hands of a Footscray Football Club volunteer are simply devastating.
“We applaud Adam’s courage to come forward and share the details of his story and we cannot begin to understand the trauma he and his family have been forced to deal with for more than three decades.
“The club will seek advice from police and expert agencies to ensure Adam and anyone else who may come forward are appropriately supported.”
Now 49, Kneale continues to deal with the harrowing legacy of his abuse, including life-altering post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety.
Court documents, newspaper archives and club annual reports published in the ABC Sport investigation revealed that Hobbs filled a variety of roles at the Bulldogs and was known as Footscray’s “jack of all trades”.
Hobbs used match tickets and season passes to groom young boys and then sexually abused them in the offices at the Western Oval.
He also photographed his victims and was later charged for possession of child pornography.
Kneale said that, despite knowing about the crimes committed by his abuser since 1994 – which resulted in a front-page story in Footscray’s Western Times newspaper – the Bulldogs had never previously sought to contact him nor offer assistance.
The club’s president in 1994, Peter Gordon, is a cousin of Kneale’s father.
In a written response to questions from ABC Sport, Gordon said he had no recollection of Adam’s story and “no knowledge of any interaction the club may have had with Adam nor any offer of assistance”.
“Until this week, I was unaware my cousin Charles Kneale had a son named Adam, and I have no recollection of hearing of Adam or what you have described,” Gordon said.
Hobbs, who died in 2009, was sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1994 for his abuse of Adam Kneale and one other boy.
Police and legal sources confirmed to ABC Sport that other boys were abused at the club.