17 June 2023

Sexual abuse allegations against ex-childcare worker were 'like a snowball', barrister says

| Albert McKnight
man walking outside court

Muhammad Ali, aged in his late 20s, leaves the courthouse during his trial. Photo: Albert McKnight.

CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to alleged child abuse.

The barrister for a former childcare worker accused of sexually abusing three young children has claimed the case against his client was “like a snowball”, as his trial came to a close.

Muhammad Ali has denied touching the genitalia of two four-year-old boys and a three-year-old girl at the centre in 2022. His ACT Supreme Court jury trial began earlier this week, before the closing arguments were aired on Friday (16 June).

“This case is a little like a snowball rolling down a hill, picking up more snow as it continues to roll down,” his barrister James Sabharwal told jurors in his address.

He claimed the first boy had bitten Mr Ali and pushed his bottom onto him, so Mr Ali told the boy he would tell his mother he misbehaved, which upset the child.

This boy then alleged to his mother that Mr Ali had pinched him on his penis. Mr Sabharwal claimed that the mother went on to tell other parents about her son’s allegations, which led to a discussion among them about the former childcare worker.

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The barrister said after hearing of these allegations, the three-year-old girl’s mother questioned her daughter about whether she had been sexually touched.

This mother had already seen her child with red and swollen genitals, which the girl initially said she received by falling at the playground.

Mr Sabharwal claimed this girl was “primed” by her mother, who had asked leading questions, and he argued there were other explanations for the girl’s swollen genitals.

He said none of the other staff at the childcare centre had any complaints about Mr Ali’s behaviour and instead said he was seen acting appropriately with children.

The barrister also argued that as the second boy had denied Mr Ali touched him, his denial should be believed.

It was the girl who had alleged Mr Ali had also touched this boy.

However, prosecutor Trent Hickey told jurors: “You’ll know from your own experience of children that they say lots of things, but they don’t say that; they don’t say that they’ve been sexually abused.”

He said when the girl’s mother asked her whether anyone had touched her private area, out of all the people in her world, she alleged Mr Ali had done so and he had also told her to say she’d fallen in the playground.

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Mr Hickey said Mr Ali had given slightly different versions about what happened with the first boy, in a later version claiming the boy had pushed his bottom into his hand, which he had thought was disgusting.

The prosecutor said it was implausible that, as a trained childhood educator, he would be so offended by such an action by a child.

Mr Hickey also said when it came to the issue of opportunity, he questioned whether the co-workers would have even been looking at Mr Ali while trying to manage about 40 other children.

Mr Ali, aged in his late 20s, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of committing an act of indecency.

Jurors have begun their deliberations.

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