Man jailed for 1970s sex assaults

A BETRAYAL of trust is how Judge James Black described the predatory behaviour of former Whian Whian primary school teacher Leon Smith.

Smith, now 70 and retired on the Sunshine Coast, was jailed last week for at least eight months after pleading guilty in Lismore District Court to two counts of indecently assaulting an 11-year-old girl in the 1970s in a music/store room adjacent to the classroom at the single teacher school.

A third charge of indecent assault was also taken into account by the judge in the sentencing.

Smith had pleaded not guilty to a series of sexual offences but on the second day of evidence as his victim (now in her 40s) gave her concise evidence the former teacher changed his plea to guilty on the two matters.

After consultation with the Crown the woman agreed to accept his guilty pleas on those charges and the trial ended.

Judge Black said the passage of time and the ‘insight' into his offending behaviour now shown by Smith, and the ‘staleness' of the matter now more than 30 years old all contributed to amount to special circumstances, but it was not a situation that meant Smith could avoid time in jail.

The judge said he appreciated the offender's age (nearly 71) and health difficulties, but the fact was that however long such things remain buried they do come out and the breaches of trust (against a child in his care) meant Smith must go to jail.

On the first offence Smith was given a six-month fixed jail sentence. On the second (taking into account a third offence) he received a 22 months' jail with a non-parole period of eight months.

Judge Black said because of the lateness of the guilty plea no further consideration could be given to Smith.

Defence barrister Peter O'Connor said a pre-sentence report indicated Smith had shown remorse, insight and ‘victim empathy' over what he had done.

Mr O'Connor said the offences were not top of the range (in seriousness) but the breach of trust was serious.

He said Smith was well thought of by his National Service colleagues, and as to why he had done such offences they were described in a Probation and Parole report as being ‘opportunistic and spontaneous'.

Smith's victim revealed how deeply troubled she had been during her life as a result of Smith's sexual abuse.

Reading her victim impact statement, and at times looking directly at Smith, the woman broke down in tears.

“I was a child robbed of my childhood and innocence,” she said.

“The abuse has impacted on my life from when it was happening to the present, the effects have been many and varied.

“When the abuse first started I lived a frightened life. Fear of abuse, fear of others knowing, and this was played out in my personality. I became shy, withdrawn from my peers.

“I often wonder how different my teenage years would have been if I had not been infected with this very dark side of my life.”

She said her adult relationships had always had enormous trust issues that ‘scarred' her life as a result of the abuse, and there had been financial costs with counselling sessions and self-esteem courses.

“I believe many of my health issues can be linked to the psychological pain suffered as a result of the abuse,” she said.

“I have had a constant battle within myself as a parent ensuring my children's safety, and trying to allow them to have life experiences to ensure they grow into confidant adults living in a safe environment.”

Speaking outside the court the woman said although justice had been a long time coming she encouraged other people who had been victims of sexual abuse to have the courage to stand up against such abuse.

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