It was an encounter that began innocently enough – a cricket-mad teen offered coaching tips by a world-famous player. But it didn’t take long to turn horrific.
It was an encounter that began innocently enough – a cricket-mad teen offered coaching tips by a world-famous player. But it didn’t take long to turn horrific.

‘I was groomed by Peter Roebuck’

James MacSmith decided to share his story in support of News Corp Australia's campaign for a national register of sex offenders. The campaign also has the backing of Bruce and Denise Morcombe whose son Daniel was abducted and killed after being sexually abused.

Exclusive: It's taken me almost 30 years to tell my story. It's not a good one, but there are plenty that are a lot worse. I just hope that by finally retelling what happened to me, it can help someone in a similar position out there: a vulnerable child, a naive parent, a concerned teacher, an undecided politician. To ensure that everything that can be done is being done to prevent the heinous scourge of child sex crimes, and that offenders are hit with the full force of the law. It's the least a civilised society can do.

So, here it is - I was groomed by Peter Roebuck.

Three decades down the track it still makes me sick and angry to say that. The former world renowned cricketer and cricket writer met his end when he suicided by jumping out a hotel window in Cape Town nine years ago, after being arrested by South African police over sex assault allegations. He was working for the ABC and Fairfax Media at the time.

Disgraced former cricketer Peter Roebuck.
Disgraced former cricketer Peter Roebuck.

If you were innocent why would you jump? That's the first question many people would ask. But many also rushed to defend his reputation - "That's not the Peter I knew" they claimed. Well, at just 17, it was the one I came to know.

Roebuck's modus operandi was similar to that of most scumbag paedophiles.

In 1992, when I was a cricket-loving student at Cranbrook School in Sydney's eastern suburbs, Roebuck would casually wander down to training on the main oval where countless boys were honing their skills, to join in.

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It seems incredulous now that someone could just walk onto a school's oval and "help to coach", but Roebuck's considerable reputation in the cricket world preceded him.

Thinking back on what happened over the years, and again now, it becomes evident that Roebuck had targeted a selection of boys. I happened to be one of them. And so the grooming began. He showed an interest in me and my skills. He said I had potential. He said he could help. That I came from a broken home as one of three kids of a single mother made it easier for him, as it does for many other despicable people like him.

Roebuck would be at training every week. He would drift in and out, there to offer tips and advice on my batting, bowling and fielding. Bowling to me in the nets. Chatting to me at the end of training. Initially, at least as it appeared to me, it was incidental. But after a while I became known as one of his favourites among the other boys, something I wasn't comfortable with.

At some point he asked for my phone number and I gave it to him. At another point our conversations became more about matters other than cricket. Where did I live? What did I like doing away from school? What was my family life like? More and more about my personal life. Politely, I answered them, innocently, truthfully.

After a period of months, our "relationship" had obviously progressed to a point when he felt comfortable with making his move. He offered to give me special coaching on the weekend with some other boys. I accepted. Of course I did. I wanted to open the batting for Australia!

It's a familiar approach by paedophiles, I know. But that doesn't mean it doesn't work and isn't working for some scumbag either in person or on social media today.

Roebuck moves were cold and calculated. Practice had made them perfect.

We met on a Sunday at the Cranbrook School oval, except the other boys surprisingly didn't show up. Then they didn't show up a second time when he took the opportunity he had so expertly crafted to assault me. It was done in a very similar manner to that which I read about in reports after his death, when his disgusting secrets were revealed.

Roebuck batting for Somerset against Northamptonshire in 1986. Picture: David Munden
Roebuck batting for Somerset against Northamptonshire in 1986. Picture: David Munden

It was at the end of a training session, with shade folding across that grand ground that had played host to the likes of Steve and Mark Waugh that Roebuck suggested we finish with a series of throwdowns and that any false shot I played would be punished. Naturally I expected that punishment might be a series of push-ups or a few laps around the oval but he had other ideas.

I'd played a few bad shots, but my punishment still hadn't been decided as we had packed up and began to walk off the oval towards the main gates on New South Head Road. Roebuck then suggested we chat inside The Rotunda, a quaint wooden building that sat under the tall pines that bordered the oval, where lunch was still doled out in between play and where, more importantly for him, no one would likely see us.

It was inside that antiquated setting that Roebuck suggested I should receive a whack on the bottom with my cricket bat for each false stroke I played. My naive, unassuming teenage self thought it was just a joke. But before I had the chance to respond, Roebuck belted me as hard as he could a number of times across my bottom with my Gunn and Moore Autograph bat.

I was stunned. I was shocked. I still am. I might have muttered a goodbye, but wouldn't have seen or cared, if he had walked straight into the four lanes of traffic outside the school. I don't know how long I stood around in shock and disbelief at what had happened.

MacSmith was a cricket tragic who dreamt of batting for Australia.
MacSmith was a cricket tragic who dreamt of batting for Australia.

But I can empathise when people in similar, or far worse situations, say that time stands still.

At some stage I gathered myself together and walked up to the boarding house on the grounds, where I was living at the time. I can't say I forgot about it, even if I tried to, because I never have.

Roebuck called me a few days, maybe a week later, as if nothing had happened. I couldn't believe the gall of him. The piece of shit. I told him I didn't want anything to do with him ever again. I didn't swear but I was firm. I thought that would be the end of it.

It wasn't until days later that my roommate said someone had come into our room looking for me earlier that afternoon. The man he described was Roebuck. Again it sounds ridiculous that someone could just walk in off the street and into a school boarding house, but he could and did. My roommate said he seemed angry and anxious and quickly left when he couldn't find me. If I had been there alone, who knows what could have happened. I could have been cornered by a man much bigger and stronger than me in an out of the way part of the building. And if the door was closed no one would have heard me call for help. It's terrible to think about.

MacSmith with wife Jessica and sons Kurt, five and Byron, two. Picture: Toby Zerna
MacSmith with wife Jessica and sons Kurt, five and Byron, two. Picture: Toby Zerna

But that was the end of it. I would have no further contact with him. I was glad I had the strength of character to tell him where to go. But I know others aren't so lucky when they find themselves in such a horrible situation. And shockingly, today it can be just as easy for these reprehensible people to access, manipulate and assault children, especially through social media.

Apart from Roebuck, I don't blame anyone else for what happened to me, including myself. Of course the school should have had better protections and hopefully they do today. All schools and institutions that care for minors should. But all too often there are holes in the net, people turn a blind eye, the rights of the offenders are prioritised over the victims - we as a society are too soft on paedophiles. The ridiculously lenient sentences continually handed down by our courts to convicted offenders is evidence enough of that. If this story can save one child, force one parent to question the character of a person caring for their kids, encourage one politician to strengthen the legislation or convince one judge to come down with the entire weight of the law upon an offender, then it has done its job. As the father of two beautiful and bright-eyed young boys, it's the least I can do to help build a society that protects its most vulnerable with every defence it can.

*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.   

Originally published as My 30yr secret: 'I was groomed by Peter Roebuck'

News Corp reporter James MacSmith. Picture: Toby Zerna
News Corp reporter James MacSmith. Picture: Toby Zerna
Following his retirement, Roebuck worked as a Fairfax journalist and ABC cricket commentator.
Following his retirement, Roebuck worked as a Fairfax journalist and ABC cricket commentator.
MacSmith first met Roebuck while playing cricket at Cranbrook School in Sydney.
MacSmith first met Roebuck while playing cricket at Cranbrook School in Sydney.

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