Child-rape prosecutor suspended
December 11, 2007 - 9:19PM
The prosecutor at the centre of the case in which six attackers escaped jail time for the gang rape of a 10-year-old in far-north Queensland has been stood aside, pending an investigation.
Queensland Attorney-General Kerry Shine tonight said the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions would investigate the conduct of Steve Carter, the senior legal officer responsible for Cape York matters in the DPP's Cairns chambers.
Court transcripts released today showed Mr Carter had described the 2006 incident as "childish experimentation" and consensual "in a general sense".
The child - who cannot be named - was gang-raped at the age of seven in Aurukun on Cape York in 2002, and was later put into foster care with a non-indigenous family in Cairns.
However, child safety officers in April 2006 returned her to Aurukun, where she was raped again at the age of 10.
Premier Anna Bligh today admitted the Child Safety Department had failed the girl.
"I think it is very important to understand, and I don't resile from the fact for one moment, the system clearly failed this little girl," Ms Bligh told reporters.
But she said the government took immediate action by disciplining the officers involved, moving the child, and improving child safety processes.
Ms Bligh could not give a reason for the officers' decision to return the girl to Aurukun, but said it should never have happened.
Cairns-based District Court judge Sarah Bradley did not record convictions against six teenage attackers and gave three others aged 17, 18 and 26 suspended sentences over the 2006 rape.
The state government is appealing the sentences and has ordered a review of around 75 sexual assault cases in Cape York over the past two years.
One senior child safety officer has been sacked and two others suspended for 12 months on full pay over the incident, but the two suspended officers are appealing the decision.
The girl is now in the care of the Child Safety Department away from Aurukun.
While the Director of Public Prosecutions Leanne Clare declined to comment, her office today released transcripts of the court case.
They revealed that during the case, Mr Carter described the incident - in which the girl contracted a sexually transmitted disease - as "consensual sex".
"To the extent I can't say it was consensual in the legal sense, but in the other - in the general sense, the non-legal sense - yes, it was," Mr Carter told the court.
Mr Carter said the sex had been prearranged and the males had not forced themselves on the girl.
"... they're very naughty for doing what they're doing but it's really, in this case, it was a form of childish experimentation, rather than one child being prevailed upon by another," he said.
Mr Carter also told the court such incidents were not out of character in small, remote communities.
" ... children, females, have got to be - deserve - the same protection under the law in an Aboriginal or an indigenous community as they do in any other community," Mr Carter said.
"But sometimes things happen in a small community when children get together."
Hetty Johnston, founder of Bravehearts, said a judicial inquiry was needed.
"The prosecutor is there to defend the rights of the victims - that man is standing behind the wrong desk," Ms Johnston told AAP.
"This girl's life has been screwed up by a combination of the (child safety) department and the DPP."