A FORMER priest accused of committing 25 child-sex offences against three girls in the 1970s and 1980s was refused bail during a short court appearance in Armidale yesterday.
Dressed in a maroon jacket, the 59-year-old man remained expressionless and spoke only once during his appearance in Armidale Local Court yesterday afternoon.
The court appearance came about nine hours after officers attached to Strike Force Glenroe and police from the local command went to a house in Armidale and arrested the man about 6.30am.
The charges relate to alleged sex crimes committed against three girls across regional NSW between 1979 and 1988.
The girls ranged between five and 18 years of age at the time of the alleged offences.
A police media conference in Sydney a few hours before the court appearance was told that Strike Force Glenroe was established in July to investigate allegations of child sexual abuse by a former priest based in Armidale.
During yesterday’s hearing, the prosecution told magistrate Mark Richardson more charges might be forthcoming against the defendant and while he had appeared in court previously, there was no criminal record or criminal conviction against him.
The prosecution argued the man represented a flight risk and that some of the charges carried penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment on conviction, but his defence told the court he had significant local ties and it was unlikely he would be a flight risk.
Magistrate Richardson refused the man bail on the grounds it would pose a significant risk to the community.
He also considered the possibility of further charges arising from the police investigation.
Police laid charges that are specifically:
* Three counts of indecent assault against a female, and two counts of sexual assault/sexual intercourse without consent against a girl aged 11 to 15 and committed between 1979 and 1984;
* One act of indecency against a girl under 16, four counts of indecent assault of a female, five counts of sexual assault, four counts of sexual assault/indecent assault, and two counts of sexual assault/act of indecency, against a girl aged five to 18 between 1975 and 1988; and
* Two counts of sexual assault/indecent assault, one count of sexual assault/act of indecency with someone under 16, one count of sexual assault/sexual intercourse without consent of someone under 16, one count of sexual assault/sexual intercourse without consent, of a girl under 16, and allegedly committed between 1984 and 1986 against a girl aged 10 to 11.
The charges laid by police are consistent with the laws at the time of the alleged offences being committed.
The court also handed down an interim order suppressing information that would tend to identify the three alleged victims of the historic child-sex offences.
This includes the identity of the man charged with the offences and details that might lead to the Armidale community identifying the female victims from that reporting.
The accused priest was driven from the local police station to the courthouse only 100 metres apart for the hearing yesterday – and was driven away from there after it.
In Sydney earlier, sex crime squad commander Detective Superintendent John Kerlatec said investigations were continuing under Strike Force Glenroe and it was not yet clear whether allegations of a cover-up within the Catholic church would be investigated.
“It’s certainly early days in regard to our investigation in respect to the cover-up that’s been suggested,” he said.
The taskforce has apparently spoken to 50 witnesses, including potential victims and their families.
He encouraged victims of sexual assault to come forward to police, no matter how long ago the offence occurred.
The accused priest is due to reappear in Armidale Local Court on November 7.