Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions

Australian teacher used position of trust to exploit UK children

Year: 
2020-2021
Category: 
Human Exploitation and Border Protection
Location: 
New South Wales

Date of Judgment: 18 August 2020

Court: District Court of NSW

Partner Agency: AFP

Summary of charges:

On 18 August 2020, Mr Daniel Mark Knowles was convicted of online child exploitation offences relating to two female children under 16 years residing in the United Kingdom (UK) – both of whom were his previous students while he was working as a teacher in the UK.

Following discussions in the lead-up to trial, Mr Knowles entered a plea of guilty to the following charges:

  • 2 x Using a carriage service to transmit indecent material to the two recipients, being persons under 16 years of age – contrary to s.474.27A(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth); and
  • 1 x Using a carriage service solicit child pornography material from one of the recipients – contrary to s.474.19(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

As part of his plea of guilty to the charge of transmitting indecent material to one of the recipients, Mr Knowles asked that the Court take into account the following charge on a s.16BA Schedule:

  • 1 x Using a carriage service to transmit indecent material to the recipients, being persons under 16 years of age – contrary to s.474.27A(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).

Synopsis:

The charges relate to Mr Knowles’s cultivation of online relationships with the two child victims, predominantly via Snapchat, during the course of which he transmitted and requested unlawful and illicit material.

Between about 12 October 2016 and 20 October 2017, Mr Knowles was living in the UK and working as a teacher. The two victims were both students in his Year 10 tutor class. When he returned to Australia, on about 27 October 2017, Mr Knowles engaged in online communication commencing with Twitter and then using Snapchat. Mr Knowles had sent indecent images to one of the recipients on Snapchat.

Between 1 July 2018 and 31 August 2018, the victims were at a sleepover together. During the sleepover Mr Knowles and the victims started a group chat on Snapchat which Mr Knowles called ‘Daddy Knowles and his naughty girls’ and to which he transmitted indecent material. Following this sleepover and until about 5 December 2018, Mr Knowles continued to communicate separately with one of the victims and transmitted indecent material to her. The offender solicited and requested sexually explicit material from her in return.

The case came to the attention of UK Police when one of the victims made a complaint to one of her teachers. UK Police referred the matter to the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for further investigation into Mr Knowles, who was residing in Sydney. Throughout the course of court proceedings, and in particular in preparations for trial, the CDPP and AFP worked closely with UK Police to obtain further evidence– in particular screenshots of some of the communications over Snapchat, retained by one of the victims. Mr Knowles’s plea of guilty on the doorsteps of trial is testament to the strong collaboration between the UK Police, the AFP and the CDPP.

Key points:

As this matter involved communications over Snapchat – which is an application that allows for automatic deletion of content after a short period of time – much of the prosecution’s case primarily relied on the testimony of the two victims. CDPP prosecutors take great care to ensure witnesses are treated with respect and dignity. The victims were also greatly assisted throughout the process by the CDPP’s Witness Assistance Officers, who worked with the victims and lawyers to ensure their views and concerns were being taken into consideration by the CDPP at all times.

To assist the sentencing Judge, the prosecution provided submissions setting out the objective gravity of the offending conduct, as well as submissions on other subjective factors such as Mr Knowles’s prospects of rehabilitation and remorse/contrition. The prosecution submitted to the Court that the following factors should inform the Court’s assessment of the objective seriousness of Mr Knowles’s offending:

  • Actual children were involved; not in the creation of the material but in the receiving of it (this is not a case involving an assumed online identity).
  • The gravity of the sexual activity portrayed in the indecent material, in this abhorrent category of offending, was explicit but not grossly obscene.
  • Mr Knowles is solely responsible for the dissemination of indecent images and videos of himself to the victims.
  • That Mr Knowles sent the victims pictures of himself, the Crown submitted, is more serious than an image found on the internet because of the previous connection between Mr Knowles and the victims as having a teacher-student relationship.
  • There appeared to be forethought in the offending because Mr Knowles used Snapchat knowing it was a medium by which communications are deleted.
  • Mr Knowles was in a position of trust in that he had previously taught the victims, and that they knew him at the time of the offending to have been a person who they knew as occupying a position of good standing in the community.
  • Mr Knowles transmitted indecent images of himself, deliberately and with the motive of encouraging the same from one of the victims.
  • The offending only stopped because one of the victims had the courage to disclose it to her school.
  • Mr Knowles’s conduct was not spontaneous, opportunistic or impulsive. His communication evidenced an established sexual interest in the victims and children in general.

The prosecution referred the Court to the recent amendment to the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) at s.16A(2)(ma), which states that it is an aggravating feature at sentence where the person used his or her standing in the community to aid in the commission of the offence. In particular, the prosecution submitted that Mr Knowles used his standing as a teacher to enable him to communicate with the victims through social media and offend against them both and that this breach of trust clearly aggravates his criminality.

Sentencing:

Mr Knowles was sentenced to a total effective sentence of three years’ imprisonment, to be released on a Commonwealth recognizance after serving 12 months.

At the sentencing hearing, one of the victims read out her Victim Impact Statement via audio-visual link from her home in the UK. She told the Court about the impact of Mr Knowles’s offending conduct on her, in particular that his acts were responsible for triggering her depression, bulimia, self-harm and many of her suicide attempts. The victim told the Court that she was struggling with trusting people as she was scared of people’s true motives. Notably, her view on authority figures had changed and the people she was supposed to trust the most were now the ones she trusted the least.

The other victim also provided a Victim Impact Statement, which she asked the prosecution to read out at the sentencing hearing. In it, she disclosed that Mr Knowles’s offending made her feel isolated and she was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety. She stated that she will forever have issues trusting people and issues with trusting that they want the best for her.

In providing her reasons for the sentence, her Honour Judge Culver accepted that Mr Knowles was in a position of trust having previously taught both victims and that they knew him at the time of offending to have been a person occupying a position of good standing in the community. Her Honour further accepted that he had breached the vulnerability and trust of the two victims. Her Honour agreed with the prosecution that this was not a case of transmitting indecent sexual material of unknown persons to victims, but rather it comprised of sexually explicit images and videos of himself engaging in sexual activity which must shape, if not shatter, the way in which these students would now trust and perceive their school teachers.

Relevant links: AFP Media Release - https://www.afp.gov.au/news-media/media-releases/former-sydney-teacher-sentenced-three-years-jail-child-abuse-offences