June 9, 2009 - 12:36PM
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A Queensland man facing child-abuse charges for republishing a video on the internet has gone to extraordinary lengths by bringing in a high-profile barrister to defend him.
The controversial case has already set him back more than $12,000 in legal fees.
Chris Illingworth, a 61-year-old father of four, will face a committal hearing at Maroochydore Magistrates Court on July 8.
He is charged with accessing and uploading child-abuse material after he published, on a video-sharing site, a video of a man swinging a baby around like a rag doll.
He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment for each of the two charges.
Illingworth's lawyer, Michael Byrne, QC, has worked on some of the biggest criminal cases recently, including as the defence lawyer in the manslaughter case against former Bundaberg surgeon Jayant Patel.
He says he will argue that the video is not child-abuse material but "a training film for a Russian circus family".
Illingworth published the three-minute clip on Liveleak after obtaining it from YouTube, but had no involvement in the creation of the video, which has been published widely across the internet and shown on Australian and US TV news shows.
The clip can still be found online and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times. Australians who simply view the video can be charged with child-abuse offences and face a maximum of 10 years in prison.
Byrne said it was unusual for a case such as this to involve silks but he did not believe it was excessive "when he's facing charges of this sort".
He said he was "surprised they [police] charged in the first place", as the video was "certainly not your run-of-the-mill child pornography".
"Our argument is that this is certainly not what the legislation was aimed at. It was aimed at the sexual abuse of children," he said.
"This seems to be a training film for a Russian circus family."
At the committal hearing the magistrate will decide whether there is enough evidence for a jury to convict Illingworth at a trial.
It is understood the defence will present other examples of Russian circus family clips, showing, for instance, the practice of strapping weights to the ankles and wrists of toddlers to make them stronger.
If the magistrate does not agree with Byrne's assertion that the clip is not child abuse, the case will most likely be fought in the District Court.
Illingworth said today he had already spent $12,300 on legal fees trying to clear his name and had been admitted to hospital four times due to the stress of the case.
He said he had not been on medication before but was now taking valium and blood-pressure medication.
Asked why he hired a high-profile silk, he said Byrne's name "carries a bit of weight" and "when you've got something like this facing you, you've got to have the best".
A conviction against Illingworth would widen the definition of what constitutes child-abuse material, and would have an impact on all Australian web users, Byrne said.
The comments echoed similar statements earlier this year by Illingworth's solicitor, Chelsea Emery of Ryan and Bosccher Lawyers, who said that, if the case went ahead, every Australian who surfs the net could be vulnerable to police prosecution.
"Who made the decision to prosecute a man with child-abuse-related charges for sharing a file he did not create, of images not filmed in Australia, taken from a foreign website?" Emery asked.
Queensland Police's brief of evidence centres on a witness statement from Susan Cadzow, specialist pediatrician at Royal Brisbane Children's Hospital.
The footage, viewed by Cadzow, shows an adult male vigorously swinging a baby by the arms but, at the end of the clip, the baby is shown laughing and smiling. Cadzow thought it represented child abuse.
"The child's demeanour at the end of the video would seemingly suggest that no significant injury has occurred. However, it does not exclude the presence of a [hidden] injury," Cadzow said in her statement.
Click to view image: 'dd1418e251be-baby11_wideweb__470x3510.jpg'
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