Eight years’ jail in Kmart kidnap case

 

A PREDATORY pedophile who abducted a seven-year-old girl from a Queensland shopping centre and molested her in bushland has been sentenced to eight years in jail.

But Sterling Mervyn Free, 27, will be eligible for parole in August 2021.

Free lured the girl from Kmart at Westfield North Lakes, north of Brisbane, in December last year and sexually assaulted her.

He returned her to the shopping centre more than hour later. He has pleaded guilty to deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecenttreatment of a child under 12.

Sterling Free abducted a seven-year-old girl from a store at Westfield North Lakes. Picture: Facebook
Sterling Free abducted a seven-year-old girl from a store at Westfield North Lakes. Picture: Facebook

In sentencing, Judge Julie Dick described the offending as "every parent's worst nightmare" and described footage of him leading the little girl from the shops as "chilling".

Earlier this week in court, members of the public gallery cried as footage of the abduction was played in court.

The footage shows Free, a father of two daughters, milling around the toy section of Kmart for about 20 minutes around lunchtime before the girl follows him closely out of the store and centre.

Footage of Sterling Free leading the little girl out of the shopping centre.
Footage of Sterling Free leading the little girl out of the shopping centre.

He took her to bushland about 30 minutes away, molested her and returned her to the centre more than an hour later.

Footage shows the girl in the arms of her mother at the service desk.

Prosecutors said Free's brazen, determined and predatory offending has had significant impact on the girl.

A pornography addict with a pedophilic disorder who was himself abused, Free had trouble controlling his impulses, the court heard.

Denise Morcombe this morning released a statement on behalf of the young girl's mother.

"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.

"We, as a family, remain positive and are trying to move forward. We would like to thank the QPS, the QDPP and the Australian public for their support through this ordeal".