23 September 2022

AIS pool grooming charges against registered child sex offender dropped

| Claire Fenwicke
ACT Law Courts Photo: Michelle Kroll Region Media

Registered child sex offender Benjamin Hugh Smith was sentenced with time served over failing his reporting obligations and refusing to give police his phone’s passcode. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

A man accused of grooming two boys in the AIS pool change rooms has had all related charges against him dropped.

However, registered sex offender Benjamin Hugh Smith did plead guilty to failing to report a change of personal details and failing to comply with an order made by a magistrate in the ACT Magistrates Court on Wednesday (21 September).

A charge of providing a false name or address was also dropped.

According to the Crimes (Child Sex Offenders) Act 2005, registered child sex offenders must report to police any affiliation with a club with child participation or membership.

When he attended Belconnen Police Station for his annual interview with the ACT Policing Child Sex Offender Registry Team (CSORT) in January 2022, he was reminded of his Notice of Reporting Obligations, which he acknowledged and signed.

However, the tendered facts showed that Smith had bought a 20-visit ticket pass to the AIS Aquatic Centre and had used 19 visits.

Officers spoke with Smith as he left the facility on 15 March 2022. Smith failed to update the CSORT team about his membership.

Subsequently, police applied for a warrant to access Smith’s phone on 4 May 2022, which meant he was ordered to give officers the passcode to his mobile.

Smith refused (which led to the second charge to which he pleaded guilty) and was arrested.

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When arguing for what sentence would be appropriate for his guilty pleas, prosecutor Sam Bargwanna said a term of imprisonment would let others on the National Child Sex Offender list know that they had to abide by their reporting rules.

“[There’s] no excuse or way to get around your reporting obligations,” he said.

Mr Bargwanna said Smith had been in custody since his arrest on 4 May, which meant he had already spent four months and 18 days behind bars.

Smith’s defence Daniel Turner said his client acknowledged the seriousness of his offending and that imprisonment was appropriate, however, “my client has already done enough time”.

“It’s been my client’s first taste of custody,” he said, as Smith’s previous child abuse charge had resulted in a suspended sentence.

“Four-and-a-half months is a long time to reflect on the importance of reporting obligations.”

He said Smith had been anxious and fearful while in custody, and media attention meant it hadn’t been an “easy period” for his client.

“[That] digital footprint is something my client will have to live with,” Mr Turner said.

Mr Turner also highlighted that his 38-year-old client would be living with his parents if he was released, as he had lost his tenancy while in custody and was studying for a master’s degree.

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Magistrate James Stewart agreed Smith had “spent enough time in custody” over failing to let police know his details had changed and for refusing to hand over his phone’s passcode.

“[It] shows the seriousness of failing to comply with this type of legislation,” he said.

Smith was sentenced to 100 days for each offence, which were in part served concurrently.

Given time already served in custody, Smith was free to leave the court.

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