SAINT JOHN, N.B. -- A class-action lawsuit has been launched by a man who alleges he was sexually assaulted by a former New Brunswick police officer, accusing the City of Saint John, the municipal police force and the city's police commission of failing to act to prevent abuse in order to protect their reputations.

The statement of claim was filed Wednesday in the province's Court of Queen's Bench by Robert Hayes of Saint John on behalf of the proposed class.

The court document alleges the city, the police commission and the police force knew or should have known about allegations of sexual abuse involving Sgt. Kenneth Estabrooks but kept the complaints a secret and failed to investigate or act on them. Estabrooks died several years ago.

"The plaintiff states that for decades the city, the commission and the (police force) knew or ought to have known that Estabrooks was a sexual predator and ignored or concealed or was wilfully blind to the fact that Estabrooks was a danger to children in the city," the statement of claim asserts.

The allegations in the document, which cover a period between 1953 and 1998, have not been proven in court.

Messages seeking comment from the city and Saint John Mayor Mel Norton, who sits on the police commission, were not immediately returned.

Deputy police Chief Bruce Connell said the department hasn't seen the statement of claim and as a result cannot comment on it.

The statement of claim alleges Hayes was first sexually assaulted by Estabrooks as a minor and that the abuse continued for years.

It says Estabrooks used his authority to abduct, confine and sexually assault hundreds of boys and girls, and that the defendants discouraged victims from pursuing criminal charges. The statement of claim accuses the defendants of systemic negligence, fraud, breach of trust and breach of fiduciary duty.

"The plaintiff and the class members state that the defendants' conduct was disgraceful, repugnant and reprehensible and the city, the commission and (the police force) have behaved with arrogance and high-handedness and have shown a callous disregard and complete lack of care for the plaintiff and the class members," it says.

Allegations against Estabrooks first surfaced in 1975 when he was a 22-year veteran of the Saint John Police Force. Although he resigned immediately when confronted with the allegations of two teenaged boys, no charges were laid.

The statement of claim says Estabrooks was transferred to a job with the city works department after the allegations surfaced and continued to sexually abuse and batter minors.

He was convicted in 1999 of indecent assault against four young people between 1957 and 1982 and received a six-year prison sentence.

The proposed class-action lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages, costs, a compensation program, as well as an apology and declaration of legal responsibility by the city, the commission and the police force.

In September, a private investigation company hired by the city to investigate allegations involving Estabrooks said 53 people allege they were sexually assaulted by the former officer. At the time, Investigative Solutions Network said the number of potential victims was 263, though 33 people on that list were no longer alive.