UPDATE: Police allege a priest assaulted 40 children during 30 years — now he is pleading not guilty

  • By a Broken Rites researcher, article updated 2 November 2019

For three decades until 1995, Father David Joseph Perrett worked in Catholic parishes in north-western New South Wales. Now aged 82 (and retired from parish work), he is in a court process, charged with committing sexual crimes against 40 children throughout his priestly career. A court has been told that the offences allegedly took place in eight parishes from the 1960s to the mid-1990s. The 40 children (37 boys and three girls) were aged from three years to their mid-teens. The charges include 139 counts involving assault, acts of indecency, buggery, carnal knowledge, and maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with a child under 16. On 1 November 2019, Perrett entered a plea of Not Guilty on each of the 139 charges.

Perrett (born 13 July 1937) has spent his priestly career in the Armidale Catholic diocese. This is 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 that have been 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 the city of 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. 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.

Pleading not guilty

On 1 November 2019 Perrett appeared in Armidale District Court to officially enter his plea. His supporters brought him into the court in a wheelchair, thus indicating an alleged disability.

Perrett entered a plea of not guilty on each of 139 charges, involving the 40 children.

The defence foreshadowed that they may apply for a stay of proceedings, but if the matter goes to trial it is expected to take up to 12 weeks. The case will return to court in February 2020.

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.