The Western Bulldogs will appeal a Supreme Court order to pay Adam Kneale $5.9 million in damages over historic child sex abuse during the 1980s.
Mr Kneale was awarded the largest payout to an abuse survivor in Australian history after seeking damages against the Bulldogs for failing to protect him from former fundraising committee member and Under-19s room steward Graeme Hobbs, who abused him from the age of 11 while he was a volunteer water boy at the club.
Hobbs was sentenced to 39 months in prison in 1994 for his abuse of Mr Kneale and another boy. He died in 2009.
In a statement released following the damages order, the Bulldogs announced their intent to appeal the verdict, stating the club ‘firmly believes it did not breach any duty of care owed to the plaintiff’.
“The club will appeal this jury verdict as expeditiously as possible. Pending the appeal, the club will have no further comment to make,” the statement reads.
“The abuse against Mr Kneale was the subject of a criminal investigation by Victoria Police and relevant authorities in the early 1990s, resulting in several charges being laid, a criminal conviction being sustained, and a subsequent jail sentence being served by the offender.
“The club reiterates its sorrow at the suffering endured by Mr Kneale at the time and acknowledges the pain which he continues to carry as a result of the trauma he has experienced.”
Former Bulldogs president Peter Gordon denied having any knowledge of a club volunteer being imprisoned for abuse during the court hearing, saying he only learned of Hobbs in 2022 when contacted by a journalist.
The Bulldogs had argued in court the club’s struggles at the time, during which they were nearly forced to merge with Fitzroy at the end of the 1989 season, contributed to Bulldogs staff being unaware of Hobbs’ crimes.
“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,” club lawyer Jack Rush KC told the jury.
Speaking outside court, Mr Kneale’s lawyer Michael Magazanik said the Bulldogs had ‘failed him tragically’.
“This is the biggest verdict for an abuse survivor in Australian legal history and it’s a credit to Adam’s guts and perseverance,” he said.
“The Western Bulldogs failed Adam as a child — there’s no two ways about it – they failed him tragically,” he said.
“They let a paedophile ruin his life and this result is what the club deserves for that failure.”
Mr Kneale said he hoped his case would ‘bring confidence’ for other abuse survivors to ‘come forward and find their own peace of mind’.
“It’s been 30 years of waiting for the Bulldogs to recognise what I experienced at their club,” he said.
“I believe wholeheartedly that they knew what happened but failed to acknowledge to me the pain that I’ve endured for the last 30 years.”