Couple who demanded apology from Cairns school over racial abuse end up in legal battle

A couple who claimed their adopted daughter had been bullied at school took action only to end up locked in a five-and-a-half year long defamation case.

Anthony Woolley and Janet Kencian were seeking an apology from Trinity Anglican School in Cairns in 2011 after hearing their daughter Gowri had been called a ‘black b****’.

They took their racial-vilification and bullying concerns to the school, and had a meeting with then-principal Christopher Daunt Watney, The Australian reported.

Anthony Woolley and Janet Kencian faced defamation case after claiming their daughter Gowri (pictured) was bullied 

Gowri had won the hearts of Mr Woolley and Dr Kencian, a pathologist, when they met her at age nine in a crowded orphanage. 

She had survived the streets of Bangalore, India, and was taken to Cairns to experience a ‘happy childhood’ and allow her to reach her full potential.  

After approaching the school an external investigation was launched but were not satisfied with the outcome.

Seeking further assistance, the pair – who have adopted four children – wrote to the then director-general of education, Julie Grantham, in 2012.

Later in the year, the document would be the incentive behind defamation claims, filed by the school who were seeking costs of $75,000 from both parents.

Mr Daunt Watney also filed defamation action asking for $389,000 in damages.

Despite a first jury rejecting insistence that the letter was defamatory, a second trial found their result to be ‘perverse’ and ordered a fresh jury trial. 

Gowri was allegedly called a 'black b****' at Cairns Trinity Anglican School (pictured) 

Gowri was allegedly called a ‘black b****’ at Cairns Trinity Anglican School (pictured) 

The battle took more than five years to resolve and has cost Gowri’s parents $850,000 in legal fees. 

Mr Woolley says his now 19-year-old daughter was put through a huge amount of stress and explained the family have not received any form of apology. 

‘The financial and emotional distress we have endured from five-and-a-half years of litigation against us has been extreme but our resolve to follow through on the issues we raised is undiminished,’ he said.

Mr Daunt Watney, who has since moved to a deputy principal role at a Sydney school, said the decision to take legal action was made by the school but did not comment on whether he agreed with the decision, or not. 

‘I was the head of the school at the time,’ he said. ‘The decision to proceed with any kind of action is not the decision of the head of the school; it’s the decision of the school board.’  

Trinity Anglican School chairman Jason Fowler said the school pursued the case on the belief former principal Mr Daunt Watney’s reputation had been damaged.