High school staff member refused bail, accused of sex crimes against students

SEX ARREST: A New England detective and prosecutor, pictured arriving at Armidale Local Court on Wednesday, ahead of the hearing to suppress details of the case against the suspended staff member. Photo: Armidale Express
SEX ARREST: A New England detective and prosecutor, pictured arriving at Armidale Local Court on Wednesday, ahead of the hearing to suppress details of the case against the suspended staff member. Photo: Armidale Express

EXCLUSIVE 

A FEMALE staff member of a New England high school has been refused bail in court, after allegedly sexually abusing several students on school grounds.

The Leader can reveal the 22-year-old woman was employed as a staff member at the secondary school in 2015, and was arrested and charged in Sydney by New England detectives.

On Wednesday, the woman appeared via video link in Armidale Local Court from Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre, where she is being held.

A solicitor for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) applied to have details of the case suppressed to protect the alleged victims.

After considering arguments on the application, Magistrate Michael Holmes ruled the name, location, and the type and profile of the school was prohibited from being identified by order of the court, as well as the name of the accused, her alleged victims and her role in the school.

“The court needs to take into account community concern,” he said. 

“It is necessary in the public interest for an order to be made.”

The Leader understands a strike force was set up by New England detectives to investigate the allegations before three alleged victims came forward, culminating in the charges against the 22-year-old.

SEX ARREST: Agent solicitor for the accused woman, Clive Sharkey, pictured arriving at Armidale Local Court on Wednesday, ahead of the hearing to suppress details of the case against the suspended staff member. Photo: Armidale Express

SEX ARREST: Agent solicitor for the accused woman, Clive Sharkey, pictured arriving at Armidale Local Court on Wednesday, ahead of the hearing to suppress details of the case against the suspended staff member. Photo: Armidale Express

She is facing six charges of sexual intercourse with a child, including four under her care, as well as one count of persistent sexual abuse of a child – an offence that carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, if convicted.

The woman, who was not employed as a teacher at the school, was initially refused bail by Magistrate Peter Feather, who said she failed to show cause why her detention was not justified, during a bail hearing in Manly Local Court in November.

The matter was subsequently re-listed and transferred to Armidale on Wednesday.

DPP solicitor Sue Hynes told the court the non-publication application was needed on three grounds under the court suppression act, because the three male complainants were underage, and students at the school.

“The complainants in this matter are children. They have already, by virtue of the publication of a number of media articles, are being caused significant undue stress and embarrassment,” Ms Hynes said, pointing to a story written by The Daily Telegraph in 2015.

“Yes, that is a concern,” Mr Holmes said, condemning News Corporation’s reporting of the allegations, which were raised last year.

“That is information that should never have been published.”

Mr Holmes acknowledged there had been “significant” interest in the case, because of “the unusual set of circumstances ... involving the offences of a sexual nature”.

Statements by an alleged victim as well as the principal of the school, detailing the fallout since the allegations were raised, was also tendered to support the joint application by the DPP and agent defence solicitor, Clive Sharkey, to prohibit details of the case being released.

“As he [a complainant] says, there has been some talk around school, there has been some talk,” Mr Holmes detailed, adding “it was a problem”.

The staff member was suspended from duty by the New England school in term three last year, after detectives were called in to investigate.

“There is a real risk, in the Crown’s submission, other potential complainants will not come forward. It is the Crown’s submission that publication will impede the provision of a confidential and safe process, by which vulnerable witnesses – in this case children – can provide the evidence which is needed in order to bring the offender to court to be dealt with,” Ms Hynes said.

Mr Holmes ruled 11 separate details surrounding the case were prohibited from being published, to prevent hurt to the alleged victims and prejudice to the case, and to safeguard the public interest.

The woman, who has been behind bars since her arrest in November, had previously lodged a Supreme Court bail application, but it was withdrawn and dismissed prior to Wednesday's hearing and she made no further application for bail. It was formally refused by the court.

On Wednesday, Ms Hynes said both sides wanted six weeks for negotiations to take place.

“From the Crown’s point of view, the brief is complete; the brief has been served,” she said.

The case returns to court next month.

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