Free faces up to 20 years in prison. Picture: Facebook
Free faces up to 20 years in prison. Picture: Facebook

‘He tricked her’: Mum’s chilling warning

THE mother of a seven-year-old girl who was abducted by a predatory paedophile from a Queensland shopping centre and molested in bushland says her daughter was taught about "stranger danger".

Sterling Mervyn Free, 27, lured the girl from the toy aisle of the Kmart at Westfield North Lakes, north of Brisbane, in December last year and sexually assaulted her.

He returned her to the shopping centre more than an hour later. Free has pleaded guilty to deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecent treatment of a child under 12.

This morning, as Free faces being handed up to 20 years in prison.

The girl's mother has released a statement - saying "no sentence will ever be long enough".

Worryingly, she also said her daughter was taught about "stranger danger", but Free was still able to trick her.

Sterling Free faces up to 20 years in prison.
Sterling Free faces up to 20 years in prison.

"My tiny innocent girl was well aware of stranger danger, however this person was friendly to her and tricked her into following him," she said in a statement.

"No child should ever have to go through this type of trauma, and no sentence will ever be long enough to make up for the ongoing effects this will have on her.

"We, as a family, remain positive and are trying to move forward. We would like to thank the QPS, the QDPP and the Australian public for their support throughout this ordeal."

Free faced a sentencing hearing on Tuesday when members of the public gallery cried as footage of the abduction was played in court.

The footage shows Free, a father of two daughters, milling around the toy section of Kmart for about 20 minutes around lunchtime before the girl follows him closely out of the store and centre.

He took her to bushland about 30 minutes away, molested her and returned her to the centre more than an hour later.

Footage shows the girl in the arms of her mother at the service desk.

Crown prosecutor Judy Geary labelled Free's offending brazen, determined, deliberate and predatory.

The incident has had a "significant impact" on the girl, Ms Geary said. "He used her for his own sexual gratification," she said.

Free's semen was found on the girl's clothing, the court heard.

The girl was taken from a store in Brisbane last December during Christmas shopping.
The girl was taken from a store in Brisbane last December during Christmas shopping.

A pornography addict with a pedophilic disorder who was himself abused, Free had trouble controlling his impulses, the court heard.

After his offending, Free claimed he "snapped out of it", broke down in tears and "felt horrible".

He "hated every bit of" his abusive actions.

Lawyer Shaune Irving said Free was ‘sorry’.
Lawyer Shaune Irving said Free was ‘sorry’.

But Judge Julie Dick said it was "obvious" premeditation.

"There's an aspect of this that doesn't look too impulsive" she said.

Judge Dick is due to hand down her sentence in Brisbane District Court today.

Free has been in protective custody in prison since his arrest and pleaded guilty to taking a child for immoral purposes, indecent treatment of a child under 12 and deprivation of liberty.

He could face anywhere up to 20 years in prison, but his lawyer Shaune Irving is hopeful he'll get somewhere between six and nine years.

Being interviewed on Sunrise on Tuesday, Mr Irving told Natalie Barr his client would "serve a significant portion of that before being eligible for parole".

Sterling Free pleaded guilty to the charges.
Sterling Free pleaded guilty to the charges.

The Courier-Mail reported that Free had been kept in isolation because of threats to him and his family.

The 27-year-old is the father of twin girls and lives with his long-term partner.

Prior to his arrest, Free had worked at a local Fantastic Furniture store after he had spent a number of months working as a FIFO contractor in the Western Australia mines.

Mr Irving told reporters outside court in July that his client was sorry.

"Mr Free's actions and his instructions to us demonstrate a level of remorse," he said.

 

 

 

He will be sentenced today.
He will be sentenced today.
He will be sentenced today.
He will be sentenced today.


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