CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to allegations of child sexual assault.
A man accused of sexually abusing his 15-year-old niece in the 1980s will claim he was unconscious at the time, the ACT Supreme Court heard on Tuesday (29 August).
Antonius Van de Zandt has pleaded not guilty to charges of sexual intercourse with a child between 10 and 16 and committing an act of indecency on a child between 10 and 16.
In his opening statement, Mr Van de Zandt’s lawyer, Edward Chen, asked the jury to keep an open mind when hearing the evidence.
He said that there was no suggestion the complainant was making up her claim but that “Mr Van de Zandt genuinely was not awake when the sexual interference occurred”.
The alleged incident occurred in March 1986 in the accused’s Kaleen home after the complainant stayed the night with Mr Van de Zandt and his wife following the Food and Wine Frolic festival in Commonwealth Park.
Prosecutor Caitlin Diggins explained that the complainant was close to her aunt and uncle and thought they were “quite glamorous”.
Mr Van de Zandt ran Mario’s theatre restaurant in Canberra and was operating a stall at the Food and Wine Frolic, which the complainant helped out with. That evening, the complainant asked her mother if she could stay at her aunt and uncle’s house, to which she agreed.
The prosecution said that the complainant remembered being in bed with her aunt and uncle that evening, drinking tea and chatting about the day, before falling asleep at some point.
She then allegedly awoke and was lying on her back, and Mr Van de Zandt was trying to push her knees apart. He allegedly put his hands into her underwear and digitally raped her.
The complainant also alleges Mr Van de Zandt made her touch his genitals.
The prosecutor said that the complainant’s mother and sister went to the accused’s home some time later to discuss what happened.
Mr Van de Zandt allegedly told them that he touched her and that he “has strong sexual desires, and it’s difficult for him to restrain himself”. As he was saying this, his wife was reportedly “sitting next to him nodding”.
Mr Chen told the jury, “First and foremost, there is no suggestion that [the complainant] is making up the claim. That happened”.
He said, “Mr Van de Zandt genuinely was not awake when the sexual interference occurred”, and noted that this may sound “implausible” to the jury.
Mr Chen said the accused was “working extraordinary hours” at the time of the festival, and had “relegated sleep to a very low priority”.
He told the jury that Mr Van de Zandt was allegedly so exhausted from the festival that he went to bed and didn’t even know the complainant was in his house.
The trial continues before Chief Justice Lucy McCallum.