Teacher guilty child sex attacks

Leon Smith outside court.
Leon Smith outside court.

A FORMER teacher has pleaded guilty at his trial in the Lismore District Court to sexually assaulting an 11-year-old female pupil in a Whian Whian primary school more than 30 years ago.

Leon Smith, 70, was a teacher/principal then aged in his 30s at the single-teacher village school during the 1970s when he assaulted the girl in what was a music room/storeroom adjacent to the classroom.

Smith had at first pleaded not guilty in the jury trial to six counts of indecent sexual assault; and one count of having carnal knowledge of a girl aged under 17.

On the second day of his trial, Smith yesterday pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent sexual assault, and to a third charge that involved the act of placing the little girl’s hand on the outside of his shorts over his penis.

The Crown, after consultation with the victim, now a woman aged in her 40s, agreed to accept the guilty pleas and withdraw the other charges, including the most serious charge of carnal knowledge.

The Crown, in opening the case, said the teacher began to take a sexual interest in the child in her final year at the school and once asked her if she was beginning to grow pubic hair.

The Crown said that as a teacher Smith was someone the child would have expected to protect her, rather than take advantage of her, and it was understandable the complaint had not been made until many years afterwards.

On the first day of the trial the woman gave evidence before the jury and Judge James Black that Smith, toward the end of the school year, assaulted her over a period of weeks when she was alone in the second school room and away from other students.

The charges Smith pleaded guilty to include fondling her breasts; putting his hands beneath her dress into her underpants and indecently touching her; and placing her hand on to the outside of his pants over his penis.

The woman said his touching felt horrible and she had been in shock.

After one incident she recounted how the teacher told her never to tell her parents and that she would be the one who would get into trouble.

She said she never told her parents.

Before the assaults began the woman told how Smith had mentioned an operation she’d had and said her body would soon start going through changes, before asking if she was growing pubic hair.

She recounted how she had once had to stay at his family home and while undressed and wearing only underpants Smith walked in on her and stopped and looked at her –‘it was an uncomfortable feeling’.

Police began an investigation into the assault allegations after the woman made an official complaint in 2007.

The woman then phoned Smith twice, with both conversations recorded by police, but when she tried to discuss her allegations with him Smith denied the incidents.

In the first incident, which Smith pleaded guilty too, the woman said he came into the classroom and stood behind her before sliding his hands down the front of her dress and rubbing her breasts.

“I was a bit dumbfounded,” she said. Smith then left and returned to the main classroom.

After having his client re-arraigned on the charges and making the guilty pleas, defence barrister Peter O’Connor asked Judge Black to allow his client’s bail to continue.

Mr O’Connor said Smith had suffered a heart attack a couple of years ago, would soon be turning 71, and now needed regular medical checks.

He said Smith now lived on the Sunshine Coast and was reporting weekly to Queensland police.

Judge Black allowed his bail to continue because of his age and heart condition until his sentencing date in June.

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