In 2009, former elite swimmer and triathlete Paul Shearer decided to come out on top about a secret that had haunted him for nearly 20 years.
In an interview with the ABC, Shearer claimed he was sexually assaulted by a leading Australian swimming coach at least 20 times in the late 1980s.
He said the abuse took place at the coach’s rented house on the Gold Coast and in his car.
“I’d think to myself, no, this isn’t happening,” Shearer said.
“So I’d call to say hello. And then it happened again.’
At the time, Shearer did not name the coach for legal reasons, but said: “Coaches like this have a responsibility and should not be allowed to cross the lines in this way. They should not intimidate juniors, youngsters, in any way. Classify and also a leopard. has never changed [its] stains.”
The ABC can now reveal that the coach he was talking about was John Wright.
Wright coached Australia’s top young swimmers, including national champions and future Olympians.
An ABC investigation has revealed allegations that Wright sexually assaulted four boys he trained in two swimming pools in Queensland in the 1980s.
Two of them have died in the last 15 months.
The day after Shearer’s explosive TV interview, he contacted Swimming Australia.
Swimming Australia has confirmed that Shearer has sent them an email saying he would like to talk to someone about his allegations.
“As was the process, Swimming Australia’s representative, who was a lawyer at the time, responded to him and had a conversation with him,” said Eugenie Buckley, CEO of Swimming Australia.
“I saw a file note – I was not aware of the conversation.
“That was when it was, ‘Can you please make a formal complaint? We need to be able to take this action further with the police’… during that conversation he agreed, but no complaint ever came.
“Our lawyer then contacted us twice to see if he would like to file that complaint, but it never came.
“That file has also been passed on to the Royal Commission [into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse].”
There was no investigation into Wright, despite Shearer making detailed allegations about the abuse on national television.
In July last year, Paul Shearer committed suicide.
Swimmers from previous pool accuse Wright
Shearer wasn’t the only former athlete to warn Swimming Australia about Wright.
On Tuesday, the ABC revealed three other former swimmers who claimed Wright sexually assaulted them as boys at Brisbane’s Chandler Swimming Pool in the mid-1980s — before Wright moved to the Gold Coast to train Shearer.
One of them was Olympic swimmer Shane Lewis, who wrote to the top body in 2016 alleging that Wright sexually assaulted him when he was his coach.
His family and supporters say he felt disappointed by Swimming Australia’s response.
After he retired from swimming, Lewis battled depression and confided to family and close friends that Wright had sexually abused him from age 11 to 13.
Lewis confided to his mother that Wright had oral sex with him.
As the ABC revealed yesterday, Lewis died unexpectedly in February. His family believes he also committed suicide.
The other guys who trained with Chandler, Colin Marshall and Toby Blundell, claim Wright harassed them at the pool, at his house, and in his car.
After the deaths of Lewis and Shearer, the men demand that Wright be brought to justice.
The men have the backing of one of the biggest names in swimming: Lisa Curry.
Curry was friends and Olympic teammates with Lewis.
She says his complaint has been “swept under the rug” and wants Swimming Australia to help find Wright and hold him accountable.
In 1986, around the time Wright was allegedly abusing Lewis, Marshall and Blundell in Chandler’s pool, he was convicted of assaulting a parent in the pool after she complained to swimming authorities about his “vulgar” behavior.
He was convicted and placed on an 18-month good behavior bond. He left Chandler and took a coaching position at the Palm Beach-Currumbin pool on the Gold Coast.
Shearer’s mother, Rhonda Shearer, recalls that Wright often came to their home after morning swim practice and before Paul went to school.
Rhonda remembers her son coming home from training one morning.
“It didn’t take long for John to land on our doorstep. And he said, ‘Where’s Paul?’
“I said, ‘Oh, he’s in the shower.’ And the hairs on the back of my neck went up. I thought, ‘What are you up to?’ The next thing he tried to go down the hall, and I sort of covered him up.”
Shearer retired from swimming to represent Australia in triathlon. But he struggled with his mental health.
He said in his 2009 interview with ABC, “I’ve had two suicide attempts in my life. Both revolved around relationships.”
Like Lewis, Shearer first revealed that he had been a victim of child sexual abuse after attempting suicide.
Shearer’s sister, Danielle, recalls that Paul was at the Gold Coast hospital about 15 years ago when he told his father, brother-in-law and his then-wife.
“Then it came out. He then collapsed and told the story,” Danielle told ABC.
Rhonda said something clicked for her.
“I said to him, ‘I know when this happened.’ I said, ‘It was Rockhampton.’ And he said, ‘Yeah mom.’
Rhonda says her son changed after Wright took him to that swim competition in Rockhampton.
“When Paul came back, he was never. He was always a happy, young boy, you know. He was good at all sports and everything he ever did, and he would get a little cranky.”
Shearer committed suicide in July last year.
Danielle Shearer is alarmed that more has not been done by the swimming authorities.
“Disgusting. It’s absolutely disgusting that this is happening to you young children and young boys, especially at a time when you know we all know suicide is high, especially in boys…reach puberty and then this all happens to them.
“I think it’s absolutely disgusting that they haven’t taken the matter seriously and I know it happens in other sports, but it has to stop.”
Buckley said Shearer identified the coach and the timetable, but the process at the time required that he file a formal complaint.
“The process has changed significantly since 2009. It’s 12 years later, so it’s a different process today,” Buckley said.
Swimming Australia now has a head of integrity who would handle a complaint now being filed, and the organization would support the athlete, Buckley said.
“An allegation of this seriousness, any allegation of child abuse is automatically referred to Sport Integrity Australia for independent investigation. They have the investigative expertise and that is what would happen today.
“I think this is a process that never ends. It is never a job done with regard to child safety.
“[Swimming Australia] can absolutely commit to do better.”
Complaint filed ahead of swimming pools in Brisbane, Gold Coast
The ABC has uncovered complaints about Wright’s behavior before his time at the Chandler and Gold Coast pools.
Retired elite swimming coach Peter Gartrell said he coached boys with Wright in Rockhampton in the late 1970s.
“He was quite suspicious at the time, in terms of his behavior towards young people,” Gartrell said.
Gartrell told the ABC he went to local police after seeing Wright in a parked car with both arms around a little boy, whispering in his ear.
He said the detective told him Wright had no criminal convictions.
Gartrell replaced Wright as coach at the Chandler pool, telling the ABC that some of the guys appeared to have “psychological scars” from their time on Wright’s squad.
“The guys told me he was suspicious,” Gartrell said.
“They didn’t want to talk about it. They were ashamed.’
Danielle Shearer wants Wright to be held accountable.
“I don’t care how old he is. No, there is no age limit on this,” she said.
“Those kids, those guys, they’re going to live with it forever. And then he has to be held accountable for that.”
Despite extensive searches in two states, including door knocks at three homes, the ABC was unable to locate Wright.
Queensland Police have informed the ABC that they cannot conduct an investigation until they hear directly from alleged victims.
They encouraged anyone with a complaint to contact them.
Watch the story tonight at 7.30