A Current Affair reacts to Ben McCormack sentencing
A CURRENT Affair host Tracy Grimshaw has finally lifted the lid on how Channel Nine staffers responded to news their reporter colleague Ben McCormack was a "proud paedo".
Grimshaw opened tonight's show by addressing the elephant in the room after McCormack - a former ACA reporter - was sentenced to a three-year good behaviour bond and ordered to pay a $1000 fine. It came after he pleaded guilty to two child porn charges.
"Now it's over you are entitled to a statement from us," Grimshaw said.
She said ACA had wanted McCormack to agree to an interview with her and explain himself.
"We've offered him an opportunity to be honest with us and with you about how this happened by sitting down with me and answering questions. So far, he's refused - but the offer stands."
Grimshaw told viewers that reactions from staff in the ACA office, some of whom were "close friends" or colleagues who "worked for years" with McCormack, had "ranged from utter disbelief on the day he was charged to utter sadness, shock, and revulsion as the nature of the offences emerged".
Fellow ACA reporter Steve Marshall described McCormack as "one troubled soul".
"For me personally, I wished it was some terrible mistake," Grimshaw said.
"That maybe he'd been researching a story and his actions had been misinterpreted.
"But when the detail of his online discussions became clear, when he called himself a 'proud pedo' who was attracted to boys aged 7 to 13-years-old, I realised it was no mistake by the police.
"How could he do that? It was horrifying."
Grimshaw recounted how McCormack was sent to Singapore by ACA to confront former Hey Dad star Robert Hughes - now a convicted paedophile - about his sexual abuse of young girls during his time on the show.
"How the hell could Ben McCormack ask Hughes those questions, when he's now admitted to the court that his own private attractions to children had already been triggered a couple of years earlier?" Grimshaw said.
"How could he offer professional support and comfort to Sarah Monahan whom he knew had suffered for years after her abuse as a child, while at the same time privately harbouring his own perverted fantasies?
"I don't know ... I'd like to ask him that."
McCormack pleaded guilty in September to two charges of using a carriage service to transmit child pornography after Skype conversations between him and a West Australian paedophile were intercepted by police.
WHY McCORMACK ESCAPED JAIL
During sentencing in the Sydney District Court this morning, Judge Paul Conlon said it was clear from the conversations between the two men they were talking about their shared "fantasies".
He said the facts in the McCormack case were quite different to the cases of similar charges that normally came to court. In his judgment he said it was clear the worst aspects of child porn cases were "absent" in McCormack's case
"There was no transmission of pictures or images of child pornography ... it does not include pictures of actual child victims. There was no attempt to sexually exploit children or grooming of any child to partake in child pornography."
The Crown referred to the content of the conversations and also of a video McCormack sent to the man of him masturbating as proof of the "objective seriousness of the offences" and dismissed the defence of fantasy talk as "irrelevant".
But Judge Conlon said the "overwhelming inference that I drew was that these conversations were examples of fantasising about young male persons."
"The fact that this offender's communications were the product of fantasy and imaginings is just one of the many factors a court is entitled to consider in assessing the seriousness of the offending conduct."
The judge said the Crown conceded the charges couldn't have been brought in their current form if they had taken place "in a private setting" and not over the internet.
"Accordingly, my assessment of the objective gravity in respect of both sequences is that they fall towards the lower end of the range of offences of their type."
'IT IS CLEAR HIS JOB WAS HIS LIFE'
Judge Conlon believed McCormack had shown "genuine contrition" and accepted personal responsibility.
He had lost his career as a journalist, for which he had been "well known nationally".
The judge said: "It is clear his job was his life. He will never again work in media again", adding that McCormack believed his life had been "destroyed".
His lawyer Sam Macedone submitted that McCormack had suffered a punishment that exceeded the gravity of his crime given his loss of reputation and career.
"Owing to the extensive and explosive media coverage because of who he is, he has suffered and will continue to suffer public humiliation. Owing to his mental fragility, he will continue to struggle with his total loss of reputation and public ridicule."
Members of the public treated people convicted of child porn offences harshly.
"No offence raises the community ire and sensibilities more than offences, or perceived offences, against children," Judge Conlon said
As he sentenced McCormack, Judge Conlon said a mitigating factor was his previous good character as a journalist with A Current Affair - and also that he sought help to control his deviant sexual urges long before his arrest.
McCormack told forensic psychologist Dr Jeremy O'Dea he was "triggered" in 2005 while interviewing two boys, aged 9 and 11, while he was doing a story about their father.
"He has told me that this meeting had triggered his awareness of his sexual attractionto prepubescent male children ... since that time the pedophilic component ... had increasingly dominated hiss sexual focus, to the point at times, it had been his predominant if not exclusive focus."
Dr O'Dea said McCormack had been sexually abused as a child - but he could not draw a link between that and his "pedophilic orientation".
Another psychologist revealed the journalist found the idea of sex with young boys "distressing" and didn't McCormack posed a risk to children.
His risk of reoffending was estimated to be low.
The Crown dismissed the admissions he had made as convenient and self-serving and said they were made post-arrest.
But Judge Conlon believed them, saying he believed they were accurate and rather being self-serving they were "against self-interest".
"It would be difficult in the extreme to regard that information provided to the psychiatrist as being self-serving," he said. "On the contrary, it would seem indicative of a person prepared to confront the truth necessary if one is seeking rehabilitation."
He believed McCormack could be rehabilitated.
"I am ultimately of the view that he does have positive prospects of rehabilitation as long as he continues on his present path receiving treatment from the mental health professionals."
McCormack was admitted to hospital in April after a suicide attempt.
In a 17-page suicide note, he told of "fighting demons since he was 11 years of age" and his shame, guilt, despair and helplessness over the charges. The judge said he "couldn't live with the public humiliation."
Judge Conlon spoke directly to McCormack after the sentence was handed down: "You have never harmed anyone and accordingly, I wouldn't like you to go forth and harm yourself.
"Hopefully, those who supported you throughout this period will manage to convince you otherwise."
Outside court, Mr Macedone spoke of his hope McCormack could rebuild his life. "I think if he is given enough room he'll probably survive. As to what he does, and where he does it, I don't know."
On Wednesday night's ACA, Grimshaw wrapped up the segment about McCormack's sentencing by telling viewers she respected the judge's decision.
"We acknowledge that Judge Paul Conlon, who certainly doesn't have a reputation for soft sentencing, says this is at the lower end of such offending, and has given Ben McCormack a three-year good behaviour bond, believing he's a good prospect for rehabilitation," she said.
"The Judge was influenced by the fact that McCormack had sought counselling for his urges before he was arrested.
"And if Judge Conlon thinks he's no threat to children we trust his wisdom, and we certainly hope it's true, and that Ben McCormack continues to get treatment.
"The children matter more than anything."