An Ashburton man has been jailed for nine years on 15 child sex abuse-related charges after his offending came to light in an Australian police investigation.
Harry James Mitchell, 49, appeared before Justice Cameron Mander at the High Court in Timaru on August 17 for sentencing after being found guilty in a judge-alone District Court trial in Timaru in December 2020.
Mitchell was convicted of:
- Five charges of making an objectionable publication;
- Two charges of distributing an objectionable publication, a representative charge of possession of an objectionable publication;
- Two charges of burglary;
- Five charges of committing an indecent act on a child under the age of 12 years.
Mitchell came to the attention of the Australian police force’s Taskforce Argos after posting sexually-explicit images of a victim to the dark web on February 7, 2019.
Police arrested Mitchell on February 14, 2019, and executed a search warrant at his home the next day, seizing his computer after finding the images which had been distributed to the dark web.
“Multiple child pornography images depicting children posing with no clothes, sexual activity between children and between adults and children, sadism and bestiality were located on your computer,’’ Justice Mander said in his sentencing summary.
It was apparent Mitchell had “a longstanding and unwavering sexual interest in pre-pubescent boys”, the judge said.
“Your previous offending also highlights the covert nature of your conduct, which is perhaps unsurprising, but also your tendency to ingratiate yourself with trusting families in order to secure access to vulnerable children.”
Justice Mander noted the cultural reports which detailed Mitchell’s “difficult upbringing”, during which he was “subject to an extended period of sexual abuse perpetrated by an older relation and other physical and emotional abuse from within your family”.
“Having regard to that background, I consider there is some causative nexus between your abusive upbringing and your longstanding sexual deviance that needs to be recognised.”
Justice Mander said Mitchell’s offending involved “recidivist sexual abuse of children which does not appear to have diminished notwithstanding various opportunities for treatment and rehabilitation”.
“It is well-recognised that such offending on children places their emotional and psychological wellbeing in jeopardy and is very likely to be ongoing.”
In a summary of the sentencing released on Thursday, Justice Mander said Mitchell had taken steps to groom one of his victims, a six-year-old boy, “giving him presents and engaging him in play”.
“You befriended the child’s family and abused their trust, entering the house at night to perform indecent acts when you were only permitted to go into the house to use the bathroom facilities or the kitchen.
“There is the frequency of the offending, occurring, as it did, on at least five occasions, and the significant resulting harm to the child.”
A second victim was met when Mitchell was living at a camp site in February-March 2015. Befriending the 3-year-old boy, he lured him into the vehicle where he slept, filming an indecent act and posting it online.
Justice Mander said the victim’s age made him particularly vulnerable, being only three at the time of the offending, and the only reason the offending came to light was because Mitchell “had uploaded videos of him to child pornography websites”.
The boy himself was “unable to recall the extent” of the offending on him because he was so young.
Justice Mander noted Mitchell had several relevant previous convictions.
In 1990, he was convicted of indecent assault on a boy under 12 years, in 1999, he was convicted of two charges of committing an indecent act with intent to insult or offend and in 2003, he was convicted of 10 charges of possessing objectionable publications as a result of the police seizing his computer.
Justice Mander sentenced Mitchell to nine years’ jail, noting an uplift was also required to be imposed to reflect the balance of the offending against the two victims, as well as his “previous convictions for like offending”.
Mitchell was given a first strike warning and put on the Child Sex Offender Register. He will serve a minimum period of six years’ imprisonment.