AN ARMIDALE magistrate has refused to lift a suppression order revealing the identity of a former Catholic priest charged over historic child sex offences, in order to protect his safety and privacy.
Magistrate Karen Stafford said “it was necessary to protect the safety of any person,” and ruled the 59-year-old couldn’t be named during an appearance in Armidale Local Court yesterday.
The man fronted court on 137 charges relating to the alleged sexual abuse of children as far back as the 1970s and one charge relating to the storage of a firearm.
The man, who was seated in the back of the courtroom, watched on throughout the proceedings and wrote brief notes as Magistrate Stafford delivered her judgement on the non-publication order.
Barrister Peter Hamill argued that his client would be under threat if his name was revealed.
“The dangers and risks to the personal applicant are real,” Mr Hamill told the court.
Mr Hamill argued material published could prejudice future procedures and the order was needed to “protect the personal safety of the defendant.”
He told the court Magistrate Richardson, who presided over the matter when it first came to court last November and granted the original suppression order after he was approached by members of the public in Armidale, that “his honour was concerned about it then, then we would submit ... your honour would be still concerned about it now.”
Mr Hamill said the defence had found a considerable amount of evidence breaching the non-publication orders on publishing the man’s name.
“On the internet there is a large amount of prejudicial ... inadmissible ... highly in- flammatory material,” he said.
“Remarkable amount of material.
“Vitriolic comments which really are in the nature of threats.”
In an affidavit filed by defence solicitor Glen Kee, Mr Hamill detailed his client had been referred to as a “monster” and that the town where he was attempting to reside had been named also.
“That’s a bit on the scary side,” he said.
He said his client had previously had people come up to him calling him rude names in the street.
However, Crown prosecutor Peter Woods said the inflammatory remarks on many of the online blogs were posted in July, 2012.
“There has been no action on the blogs,” he told the court.
“If I can call them redneck rants.”
Mr Woods said a book had already been published, which was tendered to the court on the last occasion, publishing the man’s name.
“There is certainly community disgust,” he said about the nature of the offences.
Mr Woods argued the non-publication order was “not necessary” and if his name was released it could encourage any other potential victims to come forward.
Magistrate Stafford told the court she had to take into account the fundamental principle of law that “justice should take place in open court.”
However, she noted in the affidavit that was filed by the defence, a number of paragraphs “raise a suggestion of the lack of privacy” for the 59-year-old man.
Ms Stafford ruled the non-publication order stay and said it was “necessary to protect the safety of any person notwithstanding that a primary objective of the administration of justice is to safeguard the public interest in open justice.”
She then went one step further and extended the suppression order to cover Australia-wide.
“I am satisfied that it is necessary for the order to apply outside of NSW to achieve the purpose of protecting the safety of any person,” she said.
Magistrate Stafford acknowledged it was an “emotionally charged matter” and there was the real risk that inadmissible evidence will be published.
And that since a national program was broadcast in July 2012, there had been internet material published.
There was a “high level of emotion bordering at times of vitriol”, she told the court.
She added that “allegations of this nature arouse intense reactions.”
The non-publication order covers the man’s identity, address and visual image and will remain until the court orders otherwise.
Former priest yet to enter pleas
THE 59-year-old former priest is yet to enter any pleas for 137 alleged child sex abuse charges as well as one count related to a firearm.
The man was first charged by police in October before further charges followed in January, April and then 13 extra offences were laid in July.
Crown prosecutor Peter Woods said the Crown had been in discussion with the defence.
“Moving towards agreement ... there are some areas of disagreement,” Mr Woods said.
“I am in the process of preparing a summary document ... that is now 60 pages long.”
Mr Woods said the Crown needed a two-onth adjournment to sort through discussions.
Defence barrister Peter Hamill supported the adjournment, adding more negotiations were needed with the Crown.
“I think we’re getting closer,” he told the court.
“I don’t think we’re imminent.”
Two investigating officers from Strike Force Glenroe were present in court for the matter.
Strike Force Glenroe was set up comprising detectives from the Sex Crimes Squad and the New England and Barwon police commands in July last year to investigate claims of alleged sexual abuse.
Sixty-four of the historic charges against the 59-year-old man relate to offences allegedly committed against two girls and an altar boy in Moree and Armidale in the early 1980s.
Sixty-one offences relate to the alleged sexual abuse of three sisters and six boys during the 1970s and ’80s while 13 offences relate to the alleged assaults against a Moree altar boy, who was aged between 12 to 14, between 1981 and 1984 in Moree.
The case has been adjourned to November 6.