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Firefighter wins right to blue card, despite child porn charge

A Queensland firefighter who was charged but not convicted of possessing child exploitation material has won a legal challenge which banned him from working with children.

The Queensland Civil and Administration Tribunal last week published a decision granting the firefighter – identified only as ‘ST’ – the right to obtain a blue card – which must be held by anyone intending to work or volunteer in regulated child-related employment.

QCAT member Samantha Traves, in a 19-page decision, said Queensland’s Department of Justice and Attorney Director General on 15 January last year banned ST from holding a blue card and deemed him to be an “exceptional case” within the meaning of s221(2) of the Working with Children (Risk Management and Screening) Act 2000.

The tribunal had been told the action was taken after two of ST’s colleagues reported finding “files with titles suggestive of child exploitation material” on his personal computer, which he had brought to work for his own use, on 20 February 2017.

“ST is currently a senior firefighter with Queensland Fire & Emergency Services,” Ms Traves said. “He has been a firefighter for over 24 years. As a condition of ongoing employment, firefighters are now required to have a working with children clearance and a blue card.

“ST applied for a working with children clearance and blue card. He had, however, previously been charged with a ‘disqualifying offence’, although the charge was dismissed.

“Where a person has been charged with a disqualifying offence that has been ‘dealt with’ other than by conviction, a working with children clearance must be issued to the person, unless the chief executive is satisfied it is an exceptional case in which it would not be in the best interests of children for a working with children clearance to be issued.”

On 29 January 2020, ST applied to QCAT for a review of the decision that his was an ‘exceptional case’ so he should be banned from working with children.

The tribunal was told police had charged ST with possession of child exploitation material, but that offence was subsequently withdrawn after a committal hearing in the Magistrates Court during which it was revealed any potentially incriminating images had been deleted from the computer.

“Due to the deletion by ST, the videos were not available for examination… (and) it was argued by ST’s legal representative at the committal that the title of the videos or images was hearsay and not admissible evidence of the contents of the files,” Ms Traves said.

“The magistrate observed that, although ST had admitted to viewing one video of a young girl undressing, without the video the prosecution was ‘almost doomed to failure’ and the charge was dismissed.”

Ms Traves set aside the original ban, saying: “In view of all the circumstances of this case … I am not satisfied that this is an exceptional case in which it would not be in the best interests of children for ST to be given a working with children clearance and blue card.

“It follows that, ST’s charge having been dealt with, and in view of all the material before me … ST must be issued with a working with children clearance and ‘blue card’.”

Read the decision.

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