Sebastopol man pleads guilty to child theft

A SEBASTOPOL man exchanged pornographic picture messages with a 13-year-old schoolgirl he met online before the pair ran away to South Australia, a court heard.

Dean Patrick James, 37, was dressed in a green prison-issued tracksuit and had his left arm in a sling when he appeared in the County Court in Ballarat yesterday.

He pleaded guilty to charges of child stealing, possessing child pornography and theft. 

The court heard James and the girl met on internet chat site AirG when she was 10 or 11, before contact progressed to text and picture messages.

 Crown prosecutor Diana Piekusis said both James and the girl, then 13, had sent a semi-naked photo of themselves to the other person.

 She said that on two separate occasions earlier this year the schoolgirl from the Swan Hill area travelled hundreds of kilometres to meet James in Ballarat, each time arriving at the train station dressed in school uniform.

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On March 26 James paid for the girl’s V/line ticket and took her to his home in Sebastopol, before her parents reported her missing.

Police found the girl hiding at James’ home that night after he had pretended to officers she wasn’t there.

She was taken to social welfare accommodation overnight but escaped, spending the remainder of the night with James.

The pair were located the next day and the girl was reunited with her parents.

Then on April 17 the girl again came to see James. However, this time they quickly grabbed supplies before driving along the Great Ocean Road to South Australia.

The pair arrived in Mount Gambier the following morning, and stayed there until members of the Ballarat Sexual Offence and Child Abuse Investigative Team arrested James on April 23 following a public sighting.

James told police he initially believed the girl was 20, and was later told she was 15.

Defence lawyer Wendy Duncan said the girl had instigated the interstate trip because she was having trouble at home. 

“She wanted to spend time away while things cooled down, he’s assisting her to do that,” Ms Duncan said.

“He’s basically concerned for her.”

Ms Duncan said her client’s involvement in the trip was spontaneous and misguided.

“It was not a concrete well thought-out plan, it was an evolving plan,” she said.

Judge Richard Maidment said James knew he was doing the wrong thing and should have stopped it.

“These offences are there to protect children and some children have the inclination to hook up with older men,” he said.

“Potentially it could have been a very dangerous situation.”

Judge Maidment adjourned the plea hearing to Melbourne on February 4 to enable a pre-sentence report to be conducted after he was not satisfied with medical reports tendered to the court.

James has spent 221 days in custody so far.

Dean Patrick James

Dean Patrick James