Illegally obtained audio recordings used to jail New South Wales child abuser
Leonard Michael Downes, was sentenced to 12 months after assaulting a boy with severe autism. (ABC Illawarra: Hannah Laxton-Koonce)
A magistrate in a New South Wales court has taken the unusual step of accepting illegally obtained audio recordings as evidence, saying she would have been unable to proceed if it weren’t for the covert recording devices, planted by a victim’s family.
- Former FaCs carer Leonard Michael Downes assaulted 9yo boy with severe autism at a respite facility
- Magistrate admitted recordings that were covertly-obtained by parents because they were crucial to case
- Recordings led to conviction
- Downes was sentenced to 12 months in jail
Former Illawarra Family and Community Services (FaCS) carer, 35-year-old Leonard Michael Downes, was sentenced to 12 months in jail after he assaulted a boy with severe autism at an Illawarra respite facility in November 2016.
Downes had previously pleaded guilty to two charges of intimidation and not guilty to assault, after audio recordings of the incident were tendered in court as evidence.
A betrayal of trust
In Wollongong Local Court, the victim’s family said their nine-year-old son was non-verbal and lived with global development delay, requiring round-the-clock care, seven days a week.
The family said they planted recording devices after they noticed changes in behaviour and bruising after their son’s regular respite care.
They said they experienced varying issues with the quality of care provided and placed an audio recorder in his bag.
The audio played in court heard Downes threatening and swearing at the boy several times over a weekend in November 2016.
“I’ll hit you on the count of three if you’re not eating now,” said Downes.
“Eat it, put it in your mouth, eat it.”
During sentencing, the victim’s mother said the incident impacted the entire family who have since lost all trust in support services and now employed two carers at any one time to prevent a repeat event.
“Only two people will ever know the full extent of what happened — my son and Mr Downes,” she said.
Setting an example for the community
In her address, Magistrate Susan McGowan described the sentencing as an almost-impossible task but told Downes he needed to be held accountable for his actions.
“An element of deterrence must be heard by the community and there is no other way to achieve this,” she said.
Justice McGovan acknowledged that the audio recordings had been obtained illegally, but said they acted to advocate for the victim who was otherwise unable to communicate.
She also said she questioned Downes’ remorse, who pleaded guilty only after the recordings were submitted as evidence, and said he was ill-equipped for the job at hand.
“People providing these services must do better,” she said.
“The court takes into account mitigating factors, like no significant criminal record and no indication of planning involved, but there is no other decision more appropriate than the full-time custodial sentence.”
Downes was sentenced to 12 months in jail and will be eligible for parole in December 2019.