FROM the time he was 10, Simon Gillard knew he wanted to be a cop.
Little did he know that the psychological effects of his work would see him forced out of the job he loved and standing on the brink of destruction. Like many police officers, the former detective developed anxiety through the course of his work, investigating deaths by suicide, heart attacks, murders, car crashes and missing people.
But it was not until he was seconded to Strike Force Arika in 2009 to investigate paedophilia at Knox Grammar School that the symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder truly descended.
“It was the first time any investigation came into the house,” Mr Gillard said. “I couldn’t sleep, I had nightmares and had to check on my son. I’d wake up and have to check on Cooper, who was a similar age to the boys at the times when they were first abused … molested.”
However Mr Gillard was not initially worried about his son. He was worried about his own friends, who he had gone to school with.
The group had attended Pittwater House, a private school in Collaroy, where their music teacher, Gary Featherstone, was “very personable towards you as a child” and it was impossible for the boys to get in trouble with him.
During the Knox investigation, Mr Gillard found the accused paedophiles, particularly Barrie Stewart, had similar mannerisms to Featherstone.
“We used to play tennis while I was investigating Knox and I had this bizarre feeling of helplessness,” Mr Gillard said.
“I was distressed internally, thinking that something had happened to one of my mates while I was at school.”
The feeling persisted with nightmares, despite their being no evidence that anything had happened to his friends.
Featherstone was jailed for a minimum of 13 years for child sex offences in 2006.
Mr Gillard, 40, said it was incredibly difficult to interview the men about experiences that had happened to them as boys.
He said they would spend hours giving a 20 or 30 page statement, often breaking down when trying to describe the initial abuse.
“They had tried to blank out as best they could the intricacies of what took place,” he said.
“Their lives had spiralled out of control and these were the reasons why they were not coping.
“It hit me that these poor men went to an elite private school, who were now drug users, on the pension or the dole; it made a lot of sense where the explanation of what they’d become was from these traumatic events.”
The Turramurra man said the other tough part was interviewing the 70-year-old parents “who had no idea except their son had become a drug user, alcoholic, jobless person after going to an elite school”.
He said the men’s lives had often been the subject of numerous fights in these families over the years, because no one could understand why they had squandered their opportunities.
The investigation targeted a paedophile ring at the school, with Barrie Stewart, Roger James, Adrian Nisbett and Craig Treloar eventually charged with a range of child sex offences.
“It was a joint criminal enterprise — teacher one would tell teacher two they have a new “girl” (their term for a vulnerable boy) in the class,” Mr Gillard said.
“They would not only groom the boys, but their parents. The parents would think the teacher was amazing for giving their child extra attention.
“He would abuse their kids in their own house. Some of the parents didn’t believe us, because the teachers treated them so well.”
Mr Gillard was crushed when the men all received suspended sentences, except for Treloar who was sentenced to a minimum two years in jail.
The result exacerbated his PTSD, a condition which would increase his anxiety, depression, saw him develop a gambling addiction and, ultimately, make four suicide attempts.
The worst saw him standing on the edge of the cliff at North Head after receiving a dossier of photographs from insurer Metlife as part of their rejection of his Total and Permanent Disability claim lodged under the NSW Police Blue Ribbon Insurance Scheme.
“The dossier was full of photos of me and my kids,” he said.
“They were trying to make out there was nothing wrong with me.
“My mental health team all said go get yourself healthy, go outside. It would take me an hour to get off the couch, then when I did (the insurance investigators) took photos of me.”
Mr Gillard was invalided out of the NSW Police in July 2012, leaving him unsure of his identity or how to move forward.
He said going through the red-tape to try to receive his insurance and the way he was treated made him decide to author a book and tell his story.
Veteran ghostwriter Libby Harkness wrote his book, Life Sentence: A police officer’s battle with PTSD, which has been published by Penguin Random House.
“I want people to learn from my lived experiences,” Mr Gillard said.
“This has given me a new identity, I can help others.
“I want them to know that PTSD is treatable and measurable with grounding. You will still have triggers, but it gets easier to deal with them.
A book launch for Life Sentence is on at Mona Vale Berkelouw Books, 12/14 Park St, Mona Vale, from 6.30pm, May 11. For more information, visit simongillard.com.au