An autopsy identified widespread bruising and traces of methamphetamine in Mason’s blood. (Facebook: Emmy Louise)
Child safety advocates and members of Queensland Parliament are “horrified” over the sentence of William Andrew O’Sullivan, who could walk free from jail in less than four years, after pleading guilty to killing Caboolture toddler Mason Jet Lee.
The Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane heard Mason suffered a slow and painful death over days in 2016, when he was just 22 months old, after his intestines were ruptured from a blow inflicted by O’Sullivan.
He was Mason’s stepfather and refused to get Mason medical help, ignoring obvious signs the toddler was severely ill.
Mason eventually died from sepsis, and had been dead for sometime before ambulance crews arrived.
O’Sullivan was sentenced to nine years in jail by Chief Justice Catherine Holmes, but will be eligible for parole in July 2022, despite prosecution calling for no less than 10 years and for him to be declared a serious violent offender, which means he would have to serve at least 80 per cent of his sentence.
However, Justice Holmes did not make the declaration because of the timely plea of guilty, the fact O’Sullivan did not have a previous history of serious violence, and because he had suffered a “savage assault” while in custody.
“You have served just over two years in custody to date and will serve the remaining four years, not only in the constraints of protective custody, but also in fear of further assault; justified fear, given your experience to date,” Justice Holmes said in her judgement.
“That will make your continued experience of imprisonment more onerous than would otherwise be the case.”
Child protection advocate Hetty Johnston said the sentencing system in Queensland needed to be “torn up and thrown out”.
“I just don’t understand how you can deliberately torture, sadistically torture a child and get away with less than four years,” Ms Johnston said.
“Throw it out, it’s not working, it doesn’t reflect community expectation — crimes against children are treated so softly in this state, it’s just unbelievable. We need to start again.
“Anybody that would do what this man did to that child deserves to get life, to never get out.
“It’s such a reflection of how little regard we have for our children.”
Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington is also calling on the Attorney-General to immediately appeal against the decision.
“It simply doesn’t meet community expectations, and as a mum I’m in complete shock,” she said.
“To think that this man could be back on the street in less than four years is simply unbelievable.”
Former shadow child safety minister Ros Bates said the public agreed the sentence was “lenient”.
“That little boy should have a life, he should be around for the next 80 years, and unfortunately because of what happened to him, and neglect not only from his home life but also from the Labor Government, that little boy is no longer here,” she said.
Child safety system ‘transformed’ as Mason’s legacy
Former Labor child safety minister Shannon Fentiman said Mason’s death had transformed the child safety system.
“I can’t think of one Queenslander that hasn’t been touched by this tragic case,” Ms Fentiman said.
“Mason’s legacy is a much stronger child safety system, huge injection of frontline staff, huge reform in that portfolio.”
Twelve protection staff faced disciplinary action for “errors of judgement” leading up to his death, including three that were stood down, and the North Coast region was split into two.
But Ms Johnston said the changes were not good enough.
“Every time a child is butchered and murdered and tortured, we say there’s a legacy, we’re going to learn from it,” she said.
“Then next week there’s another child butchered and murdered.
“Hopefully we do learn from them, but it doesn’t make it okay, it will never fix these sentences.”
Reports into Mason’s death yet to be released
During O’Sullivan’s sentencing, the court heard he had failed to seek adequate medical attention for Mason’s fractured shin and severe perianal injures earlier in 2016.
The boy suffered skin loss in the perianal region similar to “that of a burn”, either caused by a poor diet, lack of regular nappy changes or from a hose used by O’Sullivan to clean him.
Mason spent more than three weeks in hospital as a result and required a blood transfusion, but despite the injuries being labelled by a treating paediatrician as the worst he had seen in his 40 years on the job, he was returned home.
In July that year, Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick ordered an investigation into why the toddler had been allowed to go home after being treated in hospital.
Ms Bates is calling on the Government to release all internal and external reports into Mason’s death.
“We have a Labor Government with three reports, secret reports into Mason Jet Lee,” she said.
“We know that Mason was referred by Queensland Health to child safety, we know that child safety never saw Mason in hospital.
“He was transferred from Lady Cilento, back to Caboolture hospital and discharged into the same horrific environment that had put him in hospital in the first place, and that is just wrong.”
The office of current Child Safety Minister Di Farmer denied the ABC’s request for a copy of the reports, as well as an interview.