This priest allegedly assaulted 40 children during 30 years (while church leaders looked the other way)

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 3 July 2020

For three decades, Father David Joseph Perrett worked in Catholic parishes in north-western New South Wales until he retired at age 58. In 2020 (aged 82) he was awaiting a criminal court trial, charged with committing sexual crimes against 40 children throughout his priestly career. That is, his alleged 30-year crime spree occurred under the noses of the church authorities (but eventually some of his victims reported Perrett's crimes to the police). On 2 July 2020, Perrett died in hospital and therefore the court will have to cancel his trial. This was not Father Perrett's first criminal court case -- his first conviction for child-sex crimes was in 1996.

Some background (Broken Rites research)

Born on 13 July 1937, David Joseph Perrett spent his priestly career ministering in the Armidale diocese. Armidale 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.

Early in his career, Father Perrett spent time in the towns of Walcha and Moree before being transferred to the city of Armidale for 11 years in 1969. He was then appointed to positions in the church in Guyra, Walgett and Boggabri.

In the 1970s, Father Dave Perrett was located at the Armidale Cathedral and in 1979 his postal address was the Arnuidale bishop’s house. In the 1980s Father Perrett 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.

Police investigation, 2017

In 2017, detectives (in the Criminal Investigation Unit at Armidale Police) began investigating more complaints which they had received about Father Perrett. 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, the 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.”

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

More charges

In Armidale Local Court on 22 August 2018, the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions charged Perrett regarding additional boys and also some girls. The alleged offences occurred from the 1960s to the 1990s.

At this 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. 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). 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 a higher court, the NSW District Court.

Adjournment

In mid-2019, Perrett's case was due to come up in the Armidale District Court at an arraignment hearing (that is, the preliminary to a criminal trial) but the court was told that more time is needed for specialist medical evidence to be prepared and served. Judge Jeffery McLennan granted an adjournment, with Perrett remaining on conditional bail.

On 1 November 2019 Perrett appeared in Armidale District Court to officially enter his plea. Perrett indicated that he would fight the whole 139 charges. The charges against Perrett were about 40 children (37 boys and three girls). These victims were aged from three years to their mid-teens. The charges included 139 incidents involving assault, acts of indecency, buggery, carnal knowledge, and maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child under 16.

Perrett's death

The Armidale District Court scheduled Perrett's trial for January 2021. The trial would involve a jury.

But on 2 July 2020 Perrett died in the Armidale Hospital, a few days before his 83rd birthday. Therefore the court can no longer hold a trial for Perrett.

  • 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.