Child protection advocates cleared of defamationJeremy Roberts
August 15, 2006
CRIMINAL defamation charges against two high profile child protectioncampaigners, who claimed that two state politicians and two senior policeofficers were pedophiles, were dramatically dropped today, leaving police andprosecutors red-faced.
A year after six charges were jointly laid against Wendy Utting and BarryStandfield in the first criminal defamation case in 46 years in South Australia,District Court Judge Marie Shaw yesterday ruled the pair had no case to answer.
The shock decision came after a five day hearing, which saw two of thethree charges against a third defendant, Craig Ratcliff, dropped because of lackof evidence.
Mr Ratcliff will face a judge-only trial on one count,based no an interview he had with Channel Seven's Today Tonight in August 2004.
It was Mr Ratcliff who first made the claim to journalists in March lastyear that a serving Labor MP had been video taped having underage sex with a boyat an outdoor gay beat.
He later recanted, but for more than a month thestory gripped South Australian politics, and gained currency when the claimswere repeated by then-Parliamentary Speaker Peter Lewis, and two of hisvolunteer staff Ms Utting and Mr Standfield.
A Rann Governmentspokeswoman privately warned that media organisations risked being charged withcriminal defamation if they named the MP.
None of the â€œvictimsâ€? were ever named in the media, and their names weresuppressed in the court.
Central to the case against Ms Utting and MrStandfield was a fax sent to numerous media organisations on 1 April last year,made up of a media release, a letter and a statutory declaration by Ms Uttingand a statutory declaration by Mr Standfield.
Ms Utting's lawyer GeorgeMancini, in argument joined by Mr Standfield, argued there was no evidence thathis client sent the fax or intended that the fax be sent.
He also arguedthat because the alleged â€œvictimsâ€? had never denied the claims to the court, theprosecution could not bring a charge of criminal defamation.
The officeof the Director of Public Prosecutions, and Police Commissioner Mal Hyde,declined to comment.
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.Pedophilia and sexual abuse of children in Australia