War vet­eran sen­tenced for in­de­cent deal­ing

Kwinana Courier - - News -

AN Iraq and Afghanistan war vet­eran who in­ap­pro­pri­ately touched two girls while help­ing them with gym­nas­tics at a Bal­divis play­ground has been spared an im­me­di­ate jail term.

Stu­art Phillip Bugeja (36) stood trial and was con­victed of four counts of in­de­cently deal­ing with two girls, aged 11 and 12, at the park in Jan­uary 2017.

The girls were do­ing cart­wheels and gym­nas­tics ex­er­cises when Bugeja ap­proached them, then sug­gested they do stretch­ing ex­er­cises, the WA Dis­trict Court heard on Wed­nes­day.

Judge Troy Sweeney re­jected the sug­ges­tion Bugeja was ex­press­ing con­cern for the girls’ safety, say­ing they were not in any dan­ger.

When one girl asked Bugeja if he was a sports teacher, he replied: “Some­thing like that”.

“You of­fered your as­sis­tance as if you were some sort of coach and I find that the girls just nat­u­rally bowed to your greater age and your at­ti­tude of friendly au­thor­ity,” Judge Sweeney said.

Bugeja’s of­fend­ing was filmed on a mo­bile phone and played dur­ing the trial.

Judge Sweeney said it was more than fleet­ing touches and the crime was sex­u­ally mo­ti­vated but it was not pre­med­i­tated, force­ful or threat­en­ing.

She de­scribed the girls as naive to know­ing what was hap­pen­ing ini­tially, but they were later up­set and must have felt vi­o­lated and em­bar­rassed.

“It’s a tragic thing that in to­day’s so­ci­ety chil­dren can’t just play safely in a lo­cal park or oval with­out be­ing at risk,” Judge Sweeney said.

“Par­ents nowa­days are more likely to feel they have to be over-pro­tec­tive and keep their chil­dren in their sight at all times.”

Judge Sweeney ac­knowl­edged Bugeja had served his coun­try, hav­ing spent nine years in the army spe­cial­is­ing in elec­tronic war­fare.

She also ac­cepted the of­fend­ing was out of char­ac­ter but said he had not shown re­morse or insight.

She said Bugeja was at an av­er­age risk of re­of­fend­ing and would ben­e­fit from one-on-one coun­selling.

The court also heard Bugeja had a harsh and dys­func­tional child­hood and had mild autism spec­trum dis­or­der but no in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity.

He was sen­tenced to 15 months prison, wholly sus­pended, with su­per­vi­sion and pro­gram re­quire­ments.

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