15 March 2024

Three years shaved off convicted child rapist Stephen Porter's sentence

| Claire Fenwicke
Stephen James Porter wearing mask walking to court

Stephen James Porter (at an earlier court appearance) was originally sentenced to 20 years in prison for grooming and abusing children. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Convicted child rapist and former Canberra AFL coach Stephen Porter has successfully appealed his 20-year sentence for abusing four young children.

He had been sentenced on four charges: using a child under the age of 12 to produce child exploitation material, engaging in a sexual relationship with a child under special care, grooming a young person, and possessing child exploitation material.

The appeal specifically centred around the second and third charges, arguing that the judge’s reasons in respect to the disputed facts were “inadequate”, that it couldn’t be found beyond reasonable doubt that Porter had had sexual activity with one of his young victims on at least 35 separate occasions, and that the sentence for the grooming charge was “manifestly excessive or plainly unreasonable or unjust”.

Porter admitted he had abused one child 15 times “but denied that sexual activity had occurred on any further occasions”.

Court documents noted his legal team submitted the original judge couldn’t be satisfied the sexual offending had occurred at least 35 times “because of the ‘inevitable imprecision’ of the victim’s evidence and the lack of independent evidentiary support for the victim’s ‘guesstimate’.”

However, counsel for the prosecution’s office argued the original funding was “entirely correct” in the context of the sexual offending and the evidence given.

“In our view, all that can be concluded is that the appellant sexually abused the victim considerably more times than the 15 occasions acknowledged by the appellant,” the appeal judges outlined in their published reasons.

“Whilst it is probable and even quite likely that the sexual abuse occurred on 35 occasions or more, it is not possible to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the appellant sexually abused the victim on 35 occasions or more.

“It must be emphasised that the lack of imprecision in the victim’s recall does not reflect adversely on the victim’s honesty.”

The appeal judges noted that, despite this finding, Porter’s offending was still “grave in nature” as he had “preyed” upon his victim to satisfy his own sexual desires over a number of years.

“Although we cannot reach a conclusion beyond reasonable doubt as to exactly how many occasions the appellant sexually assaulted the victim, it cannot be doubted that the offending was persistent, sustained and, on any view, numerically significant in the sense of not being infrequent or episodic,” the court documents noted.

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As for the sentence around the grooming charge, Porter’s defence team argued his remorse should have been given more weight, as he pleaded guilty to this charge and didn’t dispute the facts.

A pre-sentence report also noted Porter had demonstrated “victim empathy” and was “developing insight and remorse into his offending”.

The appeal judges noted that the offending was still serious and full weight needed to be given for general and specific deterrence, but did agree the starting point of imprisonment was too high in this case.

Ultimately, the appeal court unanimously found that while Porter had sexually abused one victim “considerably more times than he acknowledged”, it wasn’t possible to conclude “beyond reasonable doubt” that it had occurred on 35 or more occasions, as had been originally found.

It also upheld the appeal against the sentence specifically imposed on the grooming charge, finding that punishment was “manifestly excessive”.

The argument that the original judge’s reasons were inadequate was dismissed.

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Porter had originally been sentenced to 20 years prison, with a non-parole period of 12 years. His offending spanned from 2009 to 2020 while he was a volunteer coach with the Ainslie Football Club and the Belconnen Magpies Football Club.

The punishment, specifically for the grooming charge, had been three years, which was almost halved by the appeal court.

Almost one and a half years was also taken off for the repeated sexual abuse of one of his victims.

The new total sentence of 17 years has been backdated to 11 November 2021.

A new non-parole period of 11 years was also set, meaning he’ll be eligible to apply for release towards the end of 2032.

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