Disgraced former business titan Ronald Brierley says he collected a cache of child abuse material because he suffers a hoarding disorder and did not know he was doing anything wrong, a court has been told.
However, the prosecution has attacked the 84-year-old’s suggestion that he did not know the images were illegal, pointing out he was found with a picture of a young girl exposing her genitalia.
The New Zealand-born corporate raider is facing up to 10 years in jail after being caught with a trove of child abuse images on his laptop when he was stopped at Sydney Airport in 2019.
Brierley has suffered a dramatic fall from grace since being charged, including being forced to forfeit his knighthood.
His barrister on Friday told a sentence hearing in Sydney’s Downing Centre District that he had become a social pariah, including having his name scrubbed from public buildings and schools that had been named in his honour.
His barrister Tim Game told Judge Sarah Huggett that the ailing Brierley should not be sent to jail because of his health, detailing how he is suffering the onset of dementia and severe coronary artery disease.
Brierley was en route from Fiji when he was stopped by Australian Border Force officers on December 17, 2019.
They discovered a trove of 11,756 images of child abuse material on his laptop and two USBs.
He also had in his possession sexually explicit stories that described the abuse of children.
When police raided his Point Piper home, they found a further 35,030 images of child abuse material on his laptop and USBs.
It’s not known exactly how many pieces of child abuse material were in his possession because many were duplicates that had been collected over many years.
Mr Game told the court that the former head of the Bank of New Zealand and ex-SCG Trust board member “should have known better”, but it was his belief that the images were not illegal.
That prompted a sharp retort from crown prosecutor Sean Hughes, who argued that Brierley should be sent to jail to send a message to those who “sit in dark rooms” viewing child abuse material thinking they do so with impunity.
“The possession of child abuse material is always wrong and in any circumstances it’s unlawful,” Mr Hughes said.
“I submit that your honour would not accept that a high-functioning Mr Brierley did not know that the image of the pre-pubescent girl exposing her anus and genitalia in a sexualised pose was anything other than illegal,” he said.
While the court was told that a majority of the images were on the lower end of seriousness, Mr Hughes said possessing child abuse material was “not a victimless crime” because it involved the exploitation of real young people.
Mr Game said Brierley would likely have to go into protective custody or an aged care facility if he were to be jailed, arguing a community corrections order to be served in the community should be imposed.