7 March 2023

'You were in over your head': community service for babysitter who choked non-verbal four-year-old boy

| Claire Fenwicke
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man with dyed red hair leaving court

Scott Brian Southwell-Millard, 30, leaves court after being found guilty of a choking charge. Photo: Albert McKnight.

A man found guilty of choking a non-verbal four-year-old autistic boy has avoided jail over the crime.

Scott Brian Southwell-Millard faced a maximum penalty of two years’ imprisonment; however, on Monday (6 March), Magistrate Louise Taylor accepted he was “authentically remorseful” and “genuinely distressed” he could have harmed his victim.

The court had previously heard the 30-year-old had tried to explain his offending, saying he suspected the four-year-old had something in his mouth.

However, CCTV captured the moment he grabbed the back of the boy’s neck in an apparent attempt to get him to lie down and drink a bottle before bed.

Southwell-Millard had been asked by the boy’s mother to babysit her children, but he wasn’t left with any instructions and had never cared for the boy and his sister before.

Magistrate Taylor ultimately found while he was guilty of choking the boy, he had “no desire to hurt, injure or be cruel”.

“But ultimately, that act, I found, went beyond a caregiver [trying] to get a child to comply with what they’re trying to do,” she said.

Magistrate Taylor said while “I think you were over your head”, that didn’t preclude his responsibility of care to look after the boy properly.

“At that, you failed fairly spectacularly,” she said.

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Before Magistrate Taylor handed down her sentence, Southwell-Millard’s defence lawyer Brandon Bodel asked the court to consider his circumstances.

He called the offence an “incidental choke” which “can’t be described as malicious” and said his client was “absolutely, sincerely remorseful”.

“It’s a matter of not realising the amount of force he was applying to little [redacted’s] neck,” Mr Bodel argued.

He said Southwell-Millard had a day job at a Queanbeyan construction firm but had also been a bartender at a Canberra venue for six years.

However, due to social media posts and news reports, Mr Bodel claimed his client had since been fired and banned from the establishment for life.

Given Southwell-Millard’s limited criminal history, he proposed that a good behaviour order was appropriate punishment.

“I’d be surprised to see this person before the court again for a similar offence,” Mr Bodel said.

The prosecutor said while the victim was a “clearly vulnerable complainant” due to his age, size and neurodivergent features, he agreed in this circumstance that a good behaviour order was appropriate.

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Magistrate Taylor said while the boy couldn’t speak, in the video, it was clear he tried to sit up and break the hold Southwell-Millard had on him.

However, she accepted Southwell-Millard’s actions were not “driven by malice”.

“[It] spoke to the very real inexperience the defendant had in caring for children,” Magistrate Taylor said.

She acknowledged the mother’s victim impact statement, which stated her trust in other people being able to care for her children had been shaken, but also accepted the “conduct on this occasion was out of character”.

Southwell-Millard was sentenced to a two-year good behaviour order and 180 hours of community service.

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