Plibersek joins condemnation of principal over comments about Lilie James accused

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The principal of an elite Sydney private school has defended describing the killer of St Andrew’s sport coach Lilie James as “an absolute delight” and “not a monster”, as federal cabinet minister Tanya Plibersek blasted his comments as “appalling”.

Shore principal John Collier on Sunday attempted to contextualise his remarks, made in a newsletter to the school community, saying he was instead warning that even men with an “unblemished record” can commit domestic violence.

“Makes me sick to my stomach”: Tanya Plibersek has blasted comments made by Shore principal John Collier.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Collier, who is also the former long-serving head of St Andrew’s, said he was in no way excusing James’ killer Paul Thijssen.

“The point which seems to be lost, because it’s nuanced, was if a man had such an unblemished record in the past that is actually more chilling. Rather than excusing it I was giving a warning,” Collier told the Herald.

“I wasn’t writing a treatise on domestic violence. I was simply saying, what can one school do to help prevent such tragedies occurring? We need to be alert to the possibilities so that we can dig into developing positive masculinity and people of real character.”

Plibersek, the member for Sydney and former minister for women, on Sunday joined those condemning Collier’s remarks in the newsletter. She said as a mother of two boys she “couldn’t think of a worse message for them to hear from anyone, particularly at school”.

Collier has attempted to contextualise his remarks about Lilie James’ killer.Credit: Louie Douvis

“The unimaginable grief of Lilie James’ family could only have been made worse by these appalling comments,” she told this masthead.

“Most men don’t act like this, and most men never would. But it makes me sick to my stomach to think that anyone would respond to the murder of a young woman with a ‘but he seemed like a decent bloke’ style attitude.

“This violence-excusing behaviour must stop before yet another woman’s life is taken.”

The Shore newsletter has sparked widespread criticism, including from NSW Minister for Women and the Prevention of Domestic Violence Jodie Harrison, who said Collier “should reflect on his words and consider the message they send”.

James was found dead in a school bathroom after Thijssen – with whom she had recently ended a short relationship – followed her inside. His body was later found off sea cliffs in Sydney’s east.

In the newsletter Collier wrote: “He was not a monster; rather, in the last five hours of his life, he committed a monstrous act which was in complete contradiction to what everyone who knew him observed in the rest of this short life.

“This is what makes the situation chilling, in that on every indicator, he appeared to be just like the best of us.”

A Shore spokesperson said Collier had expressed his deepest condolences to James’ family and friends, and it “was never our intention to create any additional distress for those affected by this tragedy”.

“The opinions expressed in this weekly article are deeply personal and reflect the thoughts of a Headmaster who knew the alleged perpetrator and who, like many others, is struggling to make sense of the seemingly senseless,” they said.

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