Sentence outrage: ‘I fear for children of Queensland’

MURDERED schoolboy Daniel Morcombe's parents have criticised the sentence handed down to Sterling Free, saying Queenslanders would be shocked he will be eligible for parole in less than two years.

Child safety champions Bruce and Denise Morcombe were today at the Brisbane District Court to support the family of the seven-year-old girl who was last year kidnapped from a North Lakes shopping centre while Christmas shopping with her mother before being sexually assaulted in bushland by the 27-year-old.

"I think the shock to every Queenslander and indeed every Australian is the perhaps the possibility that he can apply for parole in only a year and a number of months," Mr Morcombe said.

"I fear for the children of Queensland and I just hope that he is cured of his sickness but I find the sentence inadequate.

"The bar needs to be high to say to these other people, these other creeps who have a fascination with our kids, don't go there or you'll be locked up for decades."

Mrs Morcombe read a statement from the child's mother, who said she was disappointed with the sentence but her family were moving forward and grateful to Queensland police.

Through a statement, the mother of the girl said: "My tiny innocent girl was well aware of stranger danger, however this person was friendly to her and tricked her into following him".

"No child should ever have to go through this type of trauma, and no sentence will ever be long enough to make up for the ongoing effects this will have on her."

In sentencing Free, Judge Julie Dick said the act of taking a child for an immoral purpose was "an abhorrent offence".

She said the offending was "every parent's worst nightmare".

"I find found the (CCTV) footage chilling and in my view it warrants the description of predatory and opportunistic," Ms Dick said.

Sterling Free is captured on CCTV leading the little girl away from the North Lakes shopping centre.
Sterling Free is captured on CCTV leading the little girl away from the North Lakes shopping centre.

Outside court, Free's defence lawyer Shaune Irving read an apology letter from his client.

"I cannot comprehend the pain that I have cause her. I took away her innocent and scared her family. I hope that my sentence provides her family some closure," Free said in the letter, which was tendered to the court.

"I cant even imagine the pain and fear that I caused. I can't take that back, and I'm so sorry that she ever had to go through this".

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton slammed the sentence as an "outrage" and called for the Queensland government to immediately appeal the decision.

"I think it's an outrage and I think the State Government needs to start to take control of these law and order situations in Queensland," he said.

"You cannot have a young girl taken and put in a situation that no parent could ever imagine for their child.

Free’s lawyer Shaune Irving read a statement on behalf of his client following sentencing. Picture: Jono Searle/AAP
Free’s lawyer Shaune Irving read a statement on behalf of his client following sentencing. Picture: Jono Searle/AAP

"For a child that's sexually abused or abducted, for somebody to get essentially a penalty of about two and a half years is unacceptable."

Mr Dutton, whose electorate of Dickson borders the North Lakes shopping centre where the girl was taken, said Queensland should follow the Morrison Government's lead and introduce legislation to create minimum mandatory sentences for child sex offenders.

"This is grossly inadequate and the Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath in Queensland should appeal this case and I don't think Queenslanders would expect anything other than that," he said.

"To have this young girl treated the way she was by this animal is unacceptable and that he wouldn't go to jail for a long period just doesn't reflect community standards."


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