‘Rot in hell’: Victims cheer as priest handcuffed in court
Victims of a former Jesuit teacher with a "deviant interest" in 12-year-old boys cheered in court as the 81-year-old was handcuffed and led off to spend at least seven-and-a-half-years in prison.
"I hope he rots in hell - in actual fact hell is too good for him. He is evil," one of Victor Thomas Higgs' former schoolboy victims said in a statement.
Higgs - who has been convicted for molesting boys at Sydney's exclusive St Ignatius College Riverview and its brother school in Adelaide - is regarded as one of the Australian Catholic Church's worst sexual predators.
"See you later," one man yelled out as the obese, white-haired Higgs, walking with a cane, was escorted out by prison officers down to the court cells.
Higgs, who made a "purring-like sound" as he assaulted boys, was "a wrecking ball in our lives" at Riverview and St Ignatius College, Adelaide, known as Athelstone.
The former teacher was found guilty of 16 indecent assault charges against six boarders between 1971 and 1981 at Riverview on Sydney's Lower North Shore.
He had been transferred to the prestigious school - alma mater to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, former deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and one-time NSW premier Nick Greiner - after abusing boys at Athelstone.
Mr Joyce told The Australian after the verdict that he and other Riverview boarders knew Higgs was a "creep" and banded together to protect each other from him.
At Higgs' sentencing hearing in the Downing Centre District Court on Friday, he avoided eye contact with his victims in the courtroom.
Judge Christopher Robison said, "clearly there is no remorse or contrition or real empathy for any of his victims".
Judge Robison said Higgs targeted very young boys in carefully planned attacks in his bedroom or office in the Riverview boarding school and at a NSW beach house.
"He was trawling the seas for the weak and vulnerable," the judge said.
Higgs had used "meticulous, detailed planning. The offender knew what he wanted to get and that was his own personal sexual gratification."
Judge Robison said the victims "sadly" did not get any protection from the school.
The court heard the devastating impact of Higgs's predatory behaviour had caused decades of relationship and intimacy issues, anxiety, substance abuse, shame and distrust.
Higgs' trial heard that one of the former boarding master's ruses was to pretend he was giving the boys physical and sex education.
In one incident, he told a young boy he needed to inspect how he was progressing through puberty and ordered the boy to undress completely.
Higgs then touched various parts of the boy's body, saying "you will grow hair here" and then cupping the student's genitals.
He progressed to sexual penetration with some boys.
Aged 34 at the time of his first offence at Riverview which went to trial, Higgs initially came across to boys as plump and jovial.
His sexual offending against boys was uncovered when an Athelstone student told his mother, who complained to the school and Higgs was removed - and sent to Riverview in Sydney.
In 2016, Higgs served 12 months in a South Australian prison for his crimes against Athelstone boys in the 1960s.
In March 2016, Provincial of the Jesuits, Father Brian McCoy, issued a statement condemning the conduct of Higgs.
"We condemn any abuse of children or young people, and offer an unreserved apology for the trauma caused by any Jesuit who betrayed others in this way," he said.
"Victor Higgs taught at a number of schools … the records that are available have been reviewed.
"To date, we have no evidence that Victor Higgs' move related to the events to which he subsequently pleaded guilty. However, we cannot discount this possibility."
Police credit one of Higgs' Riverview victims, Peter, with Higgs being brought to justice.
More than 40 years after he was abused, Peter reported Higgs' crime to NSW Police in 2011.
This followed a conversation Peter had at Royal Adelaide Hospital with a fellow St Ignatius student who had been abused by Higgs.
"I thought, 'that means there are two people'," Peter said. "I went to the police and reported it."
The successful prosecutions of Higgs in both states arose from that complaint and subsequent police investigations.