‘Completely helpless’ girl asked attacker if he was OK

THE seven-year-old girl kidnapped from a north Brisbane shopping centre before being sexually assaulted in bushland asked her attacker if he was OK when he started to cry following the abhorrent assault.

Sterling Free, 26, will on Friday be sentenced for luring the girl from her mother at Kmart, Westfield North Lakes, before taking her to bushland and sexually assaulting her, shortly before Christmas last year.

He returned her to the shopping centre about an hour later.

The Morayfield father of twins in July pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court to deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecent treatment of a child under 12 years.

A CCTV image of Sterling Free leaving the shopping centre with the little girl.
A CCTV image of Sterling Free leaving the shopping centre with the little girl.

Free, who works as an insulation installer, took the girl from her mother on December 8, 2018.

The charges came after Free found the child in the toy aisle while he was Christmas shopping and told her: "Follow me".

He then drove her in the passenger seat of his car to bushland near Pumicestone Passage where she was stripped naked and sexually assaulted by the man.

After the assault, Free dressed the girl before he drove her back to North Lakes and left her at a carwash near the shopping centre.

When interviewed by police, Free told detectives when he was driving the girl back to the shopping centre he became worried about how her mother would react and began to cry.

The little girl asked him if he was OK, he told police.

He also told officers he had always had sexual fantasies about young girls and when he saw the seven-year-old girl alone in the store "the urge took over".

 

Sterling Free has pleaded guilty to deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecent treatment of a child under 12 years.
Sterling Free has pleaded guilty to deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecent treatment of a child under 12 years.

 

The offending was uncovered when mother of child later saw a scratch on her back after they returned home.

During sentencing submissions, crown prosector Judith Geary said the girl was "completely helpless" after being taken to an isolated location by Free.

"She must have felt like she was in the middle of nowhere, completely at his mercy," she said.

"He used her for his own sexual gratification."

In court, defence barrister Angus Edwards said Free had made full admissions to police and immediately felt ashamed of his actions.

Outside court, Free's lawyer, Shaune Irving, said Free had given instructions to enter a plea of guilty shortly after being charged.

He said this was an act of true remorse.

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