September 9, 2009 - 2:15PM
Exclusive: All charges have been dropped against Chris Illingworth, the man who was charged for republishing on a video-sharing site a video of a man swinging a baby by its arms like a rag doll.
The move to discontinue the prosecution comes just days after this website revealed that Queensland Police wanted to send Illingworth to jail for up to 20 years on child-abuse charges over a video the Federal Government's own censors had classified MA15+.
It raises questions about the Queensland Police investigation, the legal framework governing child-abuse offences and the decision to charge and prosecute Illingworth in the first place.
A spokeswoman for the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions said: "This prosecution was discontinued yesterday after the matter was reviewed by the CDPP ... taking into account all of the circumstances involved including the classification given to the material by the Classification Board."
But the decision was bittersweet for Illingworth, 61, a father of four who was looking forward to his chance to be proven innocent in court.
"I thought I'd be excited but I would've been more excited to go into court because I knew I'd done nothing wrong, and they've taken that privilege away from me," he said on the phone today.
Illingworth said he was determined to take legal action against all parties involved in charging him but would take legal advice before proceeding. He also called for an official inquiry into the matter.
He said the matter had caused significant damage to his reputation and health, with the stress exacerbating his health issues and forcing him to be admitted to hospital several times.
"They've left me with untold pain, hurt and suffering," he said.
"My business has suffered and my health and state of mind are most likely irreversible."
The CDPP spokeswoman said Illingworth would not be forced to promise not to take legal action against police or prosecutors as a condition of the charges being withdrawn.
Despite having had no involvement in the creation of the three-minute clip, Illingworth faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail for two charges of accessing and uploading child-abuse material.
Illingworth, who is an administrator of the Liveleak video sharing site, claims a Queensland Police officer even asked him for help in identifying other "suspect" videos uploaded to the site, right before he was charged.
Illingworth has long claimed that he was a "citizen journalist", publishing a "common interest story", and he has uploaded thousands of videos to the site to date.
A disclaimer he published when uploading the baby-swinger video warned people that "this actually endangers the baby's life" and called for information as to the origins of the video.
The baby is laughing and smiling at the end of the clip, but the video attracted criticism from child-welfare advocates because of how vigorously the man swings the child.
Later investigations revealed the clip was most likely "a training film for a Russian circus family", his lawyer, Michael Byrne, QC, said.
The clip has already been published extensively online and broadcast on various TV stations around the world, including in Australia.
Illingworth claims it was part of a series of 10 clips, one of which showed parents building their child' strength from the age of one by attaching velcro weights to their hands and feet.
Nic Suzor, spokesman for online users' lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia, said the dropping of the charges highlighted the fact that child-abuse laws were too broad and did not provide certainty
"I think that this vindicates our position that he shouldn't have been charged in the first place," Suzor said.
"I don't think we need to be bloodthirsty here but I think that we do need to have a good hard look at the wide definitions in this legislation - the uncertainty - and try to work out what exactly we do want to criminalise and what we don't, so that this doesn't happen again."
Queensland Police would not comment on the CDPP's decision to drop the case or whether it acknowledged mistakes had been made in charging Illingworth.
Click to view image: '24a566c41bfa-babyswingermain420x0.jpg'
Tags: biggles9, Chris Illingworth, Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia, Task Force Argos, menderman
Location: Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia (load item map)
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