An ex-priest from Moree/Armidale NSW (name suppressed in an Armidale court) has been ordered to face a higher court on 76 sex-abuse charges

By a Broken Rites researcher (article updated on 29 May 2015) 

A former Catholic priest (from Moree and Armidale in northern New South Wales) faced 76 sex-abuse charges in the Armidale Local Court in 2012-2014. The charges involved offences which he allegedly committed against boys and  girls. For legal reasons, the Armidale magistrate imposed a media-suppression order, prohibiting publication of the ex-priest's name (at present) in relation to these Armidale Local Court charges. The ex-priest pleaded "Guilty" to 45 of these charges, and he will eventually be sentenced on those. He pleaded "Not Guilty" to 31 other charges, and these contested charges are scheduled to go to trial in a higher court, the Sydney District Court in Sydney, beginning in early 2016. The Sydney judge will decide whether the Armidale magistrate's name-suppression order should be continued, or removed, during the Sydney District Court proceedings. Later, the ex-priest will be sentenced by the Sydney District Court regarding all the relevant charges that originated in the Armidale court, including the charges to which he has already pleaded "Guilty". Meanwhile, the ex-priest has been refused bail and he remains in custody, awaiting his court proceedings.


The ex-priest (who turns 62 years of age in mid- 2015) allegedly committed the offences in the 1970s and 1980s while he was living in Armidale and Moree.

Two dozen Catholic parishes in north-western New South Wales are administered by the Armidale diocese, which is one of the eleven Catholic dioceses into which the state of New South Wales is divided. The Armidale diocese covers an extensive region around the New England Highway. The Armidale diocese includes towns such as Tamworth (in the south of the diocese) and Moree and Narrabri (in the west). This diocese extends as far north as the Queensland border.

The town of Armidale is merely where the bishop and the cathedral are situated (and it is also the town where the arrested ex-priest was living, as a private citizen, after he ceased working in parishes some years ago). And his preliminary court proceedings were held in the Armidale Local Court.

First charges: girls

The ex-priest first appeared before a magistrate in Armidale Local Court on 18 October 2012, when he was charged with 23 alleged offences relating to three girls. The charges included indecent assault, acts of indecency and sexual intercourse without consent, allegedly committed between 1979 and 1988. The girls were aged between 5 and 18 years old at the time of the alleged incidents.

At the 18 October 2012 hearing, Magistrate Mark Richardson rejected the man's bail application and ordered him to remain in custody until the case would come up for mention again later in 2012.

On 7 November 2012, in Armidale Local Court, the defendant appeared via audio visual link from the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre in Silverwater.

He offered his Armidale house, valued at $230,000, as a surety, as well as $10,000 cash. His brother and sister would contribute $5000 each in order for bail to be granted.

Magistrate Richardson granted bail with strict conditions after determining that the accused would spend too much time in custody while waiting for a trial, as the preparations for a trial would take a long time to complete.

As part of his bail conditions, the man was prohibited from visiting the town of Armidale except for medical reasons or court appearances and must report to a police station periodically.

He was banned from school grounds and associating with people aged 16 and under. He is not allowed to approach his accusers or other prosecution witnesses, including through a third party.

Altar boys

The ex-priest appeared in Armidale Local Court again on 23 January 2013, when he was charged with 35 offences, which were allegedly committed against six boys, aged 11 and 12, between 1981 and 1984. The charges included: nine counts of sexual assault; 25 counts of indecent assault; and one count of common assault.

The six alleged victims were all altar boys at the Moree parish at the time of the alleged offences.

The man was granted conditional bail pending his next court appearance on these charges.

Name suppressed

At the October 2012 hearing, Magistrate Mark Richardson ordered that the man's name not be published, so as to protect the anonymity of the alleged female victims.

For legal reasons, courts frequently make this kind of non-publication order, especially at the earliest hearing in the prosecution process. Such an order can be reviewed later when the prosecution process is further advanced.

At the January 2013 file-hearing, Crown prosecutor Peter Woods applied for the name-suppression order to be lifted, in view of the laying of the charges relating to the altar boys. He said that the limited media coverage had directly led to new alleged victims coming forward.

"Victims are encouraged and supported and that is in the public interest," he said. "Many of the new victims are now in their 40s and living all across Australia."

But the ex-priest's defence lawyer argued that any media coverage would prejudice a fair trial. He also raised concerns for the safety of his client.

At the January 2013 hearing, Magistrate Karen Stafford ruled that the name-suppression order would remain until further notice.

Fresh charges in 2013

At a hearing in the same court on 8 May 2013, the ex-priest was charged with an additional 64 offences, allegedly committed against three more victims. The new charges related to alleged assaults against one boy and two girls, aged from nine to 19, between 1982 and 1985 in Moree, Narrabri, Inverell and Armidale.

The fresh charges included 11 counts of sexual intercourse without consent, 52 counts of indecent assault and one count of committing an act of indecency. The new offences brought the total number of charges at this stage to 124, relating to seven boys and five girls.

While a non-publication order on the man's name would remain in effect for the earlier charges, Prosecutor Peter Woods requested that publication of the defendant's name should be allowed for the May 2013 charges. He said that publication of the man's name would prompt any other alleged victims (or people with information) to contact the detectives.

This application was opposed by the man's lawyer.

Magistrate Karen Stafford said she would issue an interim non-publication order on the fresh charges but would review the order in a future hearing.

On 17 July 2013, the ex-priest again appeared in the same court, where 13 charges were filed relating to alleged assaults against a boy, aged 12 to 14, between 1981 and 1984 in Moree. The charges include nine counts of sexual intercourse without consent and four counts of indecent assault.

In court on 4 September 2013, Magistrate Karen Stafford reviewed the non-publication order  and decided to uphold it on the grounds that lifting the gag “would be an objectively magnified risk” to the priest's personal safety.

The defence had argued that a non-publication order was necessary to prevent prejudice to justice, protect the safety of people in the court, prevent causing undue distress or embarrassment and was otherwise necessary in public interest. The DPP opposed both non-publication order applications.

Magistrate Stafford also extended the non-publication order to all Australian states and territories.

Meanwhile crown prosecutor Peter Woods said the crown and defence were in the process of preparing a summary document, then already more than 60 pages in length but there were “still areas where there is some disagreement”.

Of the ex-priest's charges at this stage, 74 related to the alleged sexual abuse of three girls and six altar boys during the 1970s and 1980s and 64 related to the alleged abuse of a further two girls and one altar boy in Moree and Armidale in the early 1980s.

A further charge relates to the incorrect storage of a firearm. This made a total of 139 charges at this stage.

Negotiations between prosecutors and the defence

When the case resumed on 6 November 2013, Crown prosecutor Peter Woods told the court that the defence and the Crown were agreed on a number of facts relating to certain charges.

The court was told that prosecutors and the defence have reached "substantial agreement" in relation to many of the facts regarding the case and the defence team was expected to submit a written plea-offer.

The matter came up for mention again, on several dates, at Armidale Local Court in early 2014.

When the matter came up for mention again (for the 13th time) on 9 April 2014, Crown Prosecutor Peter Woods told the court that substantial negotiations have been going on between the Office of Public Prosecutions and the defence lawyers for the past 18 months."

“We have reached agreement on some of the charges," he said.

Mr Woods said the brief of evidence against the accused spans 11 volumes.

“There are diaries and so forth, investigator statements ... statements from other people around at the church in Moree,” Mr Woods said.

Guilty plea on some charges

During 2014 the prosecution selected 76 charges for the eventual proceedings, with the remaining charges being discarded. On 7 August 2014, the ex-priest pleaded guilty to 45 charges but not to 31 other charges.

In October 2014 magistrate Karen Stafford began a committal hearing on some of the 31 contested charges but this had to be adjourned for a few weeks after the prosecutor became ill.

Some additional charges

When the matter came before the Armidale Local Court again in November 2014 (regarding three of the contested charges), five witnesses gave evidence in court.

They included an alleged victim (a former altar boy), his mother and a detective senior constable. The court was closed during this evidence, so as to protect the privacy of the witness. The court heard that, in recent years, this alleged victim (now a middle-aged man) noticed the ex-priest's court case being referred to in the media, and the alleged victim then informed his mother and his partner about the alleged assault.

After this day-long hearing in November 2014, Magistrate Karen Stafford gave a ruling on the charges to which the ex-priest is pleading "Not Guilty". She ruled that there is sufficient evidence for the ex-priest to be convicted by a jury on these charges. She committed the ex-priest to stand trial in the NSW District Court on those charges. By then, the ex-priest had appeared in the Local Court more than 15 times while all the necessary steps in the Local Court process were completed.

Publishing the ex-priest's name?

At the end of the November 2014 hearing, the crown prosecutor requested that, as the contested charges are now going to a possible trial, the magistrate should remove the non-publication order that has been preventing the accused man's name from being revealed. However, magistrate Stafford refused this request as the defence had not been notified of the application. (A judge in Sydney will have the option of reviewing this non-publication order.)

Case goes to the higher court

At another Armidale Local Court procedure in May 2015, magistrate Stafford finally scheduled the matter to come up in the New South Wales District Court in Sydney in late January 2016. The District Court process could be a complex and lengthy one while the court deals with all the contested charges.

Eventually, the judge would hold proceedings for the ex-priest to be sentenced on all charges for which he will have been found guilty (including the ones on which he has already pleaded Guilty).

Investigation continues

A special team of detectives (named Strike Force Glenroe) was established in July 2012 to investigate allegations concerning this former priest. Anybody with relevant information can contact Task Force Glenroe through the Sex Crime Squad at the NSW Police Headquarters in Parramatta, Sydney. The strike force will continue its investigations into this ex-priest.