11 May 2021

Child sex offender resumed viewing horrific files in COVID-19 lockdown

| Albert McKnight
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ACT Courts

Stephen John Barber has been jailed for 15 months. Photo: Albert McKnight.

A Franklin man who resumed downloading vile images and videos of children being abused when he was isolated during the COVID-19 lockdown has been jailed.

Stephen John Barber, 67, faced a maximum 15 years behind bars after he pleaded guilty to the offences earlier this year.

According to the recently released judgement from the ACT Supreme Court, he used a dark web browser to access a website that only contained child abuse material.

In April 2020, police learned child abuse files were being downloaded by a media-sharing software program onto Barber’s computer.

Later that month, police searched his house and found 4670 files of child abuse, including 150 duplications, spread over five devices.

About 100 different children were in the files, ranging from two to 15 years old.

After he was arrested on 23 April 2020, he was granted bail, with conditions including that he not possess a device that could access the internet.

But in November 2020, police searched his home again and discovered he had a mobile phone on which there were seven files of child abuse material featuring prepubescent girls.

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Chief Justice Helen Murrell said the motive for the offending was sexual gratification.

She said the former public servant was a single man with no children and had recently been diagnosed with depression.

“He lives (and seemingly has always lived) a socially isolated life and lacks productive activities,” she said.

Chief Justice Murrell said he no significant relationships and, in his 40s, used the services of sex workers, although he did not derive much satisfaction from those encounters.

Police found Barber had been downloading the horrific material since 2011.

Chief Justice Murrell said Barber felt his illegal behaviour was becoming compulsive in 2015 and 2017. He attempted to discuss child abuse material with his GP but was unsuccessful as he felt too ashamed to clearly articulate his behaviour.

She said he began looking at child abuse material again in 2020 when he was confined to his house by the COVID-19 pandemic and had “no routine or regular social interaction”.

Barber had told his psychologist he had been threatened while in custody and was now in a secure unit where he was less exposed to risk.

Chief Justice Murrell said he had “expressed his remorse and disgust about his conduct” to one of his long-time friends.

Barber pleaded guilty to four counts of using a carriage service to access child abuse material and two counts of possessing or controlling child abuse material obtained or accessed using a carriage service.

Chief Justice Murrell sentenced him to a total of two years and six months’ jail. He will be released after 15 months in February 2022 and placed on a 12-month good behaviour order.

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