Australia

Kmart abduction case: Australian jailed for molesting girl

Blurry shadow of a little boy and a girl walking with adults in black and white Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The man abducted a seven-year-old girl from a Brisbane shopping centre last year

An Australian man who kidnapped a child from a shopping centre and molested her in remote scrubland has been jailed.

Sterling Mervyn Free, 27, lured the seven-year-old girl out of a Kmart store in Brisbane last December.

He then drove her to an isolated place where he sexually assaulted her, before returning her about an hour later.

A judge called the attack "every parent's worst nightmare" and jailed Free for a maximum of eight years - a sentence which has drawn controversy.

Speaking in the Brisbane District Court, Judge Julie Dick said Free's abduction of the girl form a toy aisle was "chilling, opportunistic and predatory".

But she stopped short of legally classifying him as a serious violent offender, meaning Free will be eligible for parole in 2021.

Australian Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the sentence was "grossly inadequate" and called on Queensland state lawmakers to intervene.

"To have this young girl treated the way that she was by this animal is unacceptable and that he wouldn't go to jail for a long period of time just doesn't reflect community standards," he said.

Prosecutors told the court the attack had occurred while the girl's parents were busy doing Christmas shopping.

The court was shown CCTV footage of Free lingering in the toy aisles, before exiting the store with the girl following him.

He was arrested two days later and charged with kidnapping and indecent assault. He pleaded guilty to the charges in July.

The court heard that Free, who has two children, was addicted to pornography and had suffered abuse himself.

He apologised to his victim and said he accepted his punishment, saying in a statement on Friday: "I deeply regret the harm that I have done."

The victim's mother said her daughter had been educated about "stranger danger" but was tricked into following Free.

"[No] sentence will ever be long enough to make up for the ongoing effects this will have on her," she said.

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Media captionThe animation designed to teach children how to speak out about abuse

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