Police allege a priest assaulted 37 children during 30 years. He is to face a court trial

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 9 May 2019

For three decades until 1995, Father David Joseph Perrett was a Catholic priest in New South Wales. In 2019 (aged 81) he is in a court process, charged with committing sexual crimes against 37 children throughout his priestly career. That is, his alleged 30-year crime spree occurred under the noses of the church authorities. The charges against Perrett include buggery, carnal knowledge of a child under 10, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault and assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The prosecutors have stated that some of Perrett's charges are so serious that he could perhaps spend the rest of his life in jail if convicted. A magistrate has ordered Perrett to stand trial with a judge in a higher court, the NSW District Court, with the preliminary steps scheduled for mid-2019.

Perrett (born 13 July 1937) has spent his priestly career in the Armidale Catholic diocese. This is the same diocese which remained silent for three decades about the crimes of another priest, Father John Joseph Farrell, who now is serving a long jail sentence).

The Armidale Catholic diocese is one of eleven regional dioceses covering New South Wales. The Armidale diocese (comprising two dozen towns in the north-west of New South Wales) extends up the New England Highway to the Queensland border. The bishop resides in the city of Armidale.

According to statements made in court, Perrett was ordained as a priest in 1961 and spent time in the towns of Walcha and Moree before being transferred to Armidale for 11 years in 1969. He was then appointed to positions in the church in Guyra, Walgett and Boggabri. He is now retired from parish work.

The case against David Perrett has been prepared by detectives in the Criminal Investigation Unit at Armidale Police. The detectives are continuing their inquiries.

Arrested in Queensland

Until 2017, Perrett had been living in retirement (apparently in a Catholic Church convent) in Wallangarra (on the Queensland-NSW border, near Tenterfield). In May 2017, NSW detectives extradited him back to NSW, where he was charged regarding several of the alleged victims. While awaiting his next court appearance, he was required to reside with a relative of his at a house in Armidale and was required to report to police four times a week.

Speaking on behalf of NSW police, Detective Inspector Ann Joy said in a media statement in May 2017: "We would encourage anyone with knowledge of any related incident, whether it is a witness or a complainant, to make contact with police. We will investigate those matters thoroughly and as a matter of priority.”

Locked up in custody

During 2017 and 2018, more members of the public contacted the Armidale Detectives Office about David Perrett.

In Armidale Local Court on 22 August 2018, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions charged Perrett regarding additional boys and also some girls. So far, this made a total of 30 alleged victims, involving a total of 92 charges. The alleged offences occurred from the 1960s to the 1990s.

[These were not necessarily Perrett's only alleged victims. These were thirty alleged victims who each had a private interview with the detectives. In late 2018, police were still prepared to interview any more complainants.]

At the August 2018 hearing, the prosecutor lodged a detention application to prevent Perrett from being released on bail while he awaits his next court appearance. The prosecutor said eleven of the charges required Perrett to produce evidence as to why his detention was not justified, because these charges all involved sexual intercourse with children under the age of 16.

Two of the charges involved sexual intercourse with a very young child and are punishable by life imprisonment, the prosecutor said.

At the August 2018 hearing, Perrett was denied bail by magistrate Michael Holmes. Perrett then left the courtroom in the custody of Corrective Services NSW officers.

Meanwhile, the detectives continued their investigations.

Committed for trial

On 3 April 2019, David Joseph Perrett appeared via video link in Armidale Local Court from prison. In court, prosecutors laid eight new counts of adult maintaining unlawful relationship with a child - a charge that carries life imprisonment, if the person is convicted.

Magistrate Michael Holmes formally committed Perrett for trial (to be held in the New South Wales District Court district court) on 130 separate charges. Perrett faces 90 charges of indecent assault on a male; 10 counts of sexual assault category four; eight counts of adult maintain unlawful relationship with a child; three counts of buggery; and 19 other aggravated sexual or indecent assault, or assault-related charges. Almost 20 charges including an anomaly in the charging process were withdrawn by prosecutors during the proceedings.

Perrett was formally refused bail by Mr Holmes who ordered that he remain in custody until his next court appearance. A week later, however, a NSW Supreme Court judge released Perrett on bail until his charges would come up in the NSW District Court in mid-2019. At his first District Court appearance, Perrett would be required to indicate whether he intends to plead guilty or not guilty. Any trial would be held on a later date (there is a long waiting-list for trials in New South Wales).

The charges before the court relate to 37 complainants.

Some background (Broken Rites research)

Born 13 July 1937, David Joseph Perrett was baptised at the Warialda Catholic Church which was then a part of the Bingara parish (both these places are within the Armidale diocese). Eventually he was recruited to become a priest in the Armidale diocese.

In the 1970s, Father Dave Perrett was located at the Armidale Cathedral and in 1979 his postal address was the bishop’s house.

In the 1980s he was “chaplain” to the diocese’s “John XXIII Centre for Aborigines”. He was later in charge of rural parishes at Guyra and then Walgett, both of which included Aboriginal families.

In 1996, while he was working as a priest, Father David Joseph Perrett appeared in court in New South Wales, where he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing young boys in north-western NSW. The charges comprised indecent assault of two boys at one parish (Walgett) and sexual assault of one boy at another parish (Guyra). At the sentencing, in Orange District Court on 1 November 1996, Judge Shillington sentenced Perrett to a three-year good-behaviour bond. The annual Australian Catholic Directories continued to list Father Perrett as a priest of the Armidale diocese (“on leave”) until his name was removed in 2001.

Another complaint against David Joseph Perrett was aired on ABC-TV’s “Four Corner” on 11 November 2002. The program featured a written statement by a young Aboriginal, Edward Russell, who said he was sexually assaulted by Father Perrett as a boy at Walgett. However, this complaint never reached a court. Edward Russell (born in 1973) had an intellectual disability and was partially deaf. He had a traumatic adolescence. He went on to be convicted himself of crimes and he eventually committed suicide in jail.

  • To see more about the silence of church leaders in the Armidale diocese in New South Wales (regarding another priest, Father John Joseph Farrell), click HERE.