Sex fiend guilty of being at Bunbury school

Kate FieldingSouth Western Times
A registered child sex offender was found by police on the grounds of Bunbury Primary School.
Camera IconA registered child sex offender was found by police on the grounds of Bunbury Primary School. Credit: Stock image

A registered child sex offender who was found on the grounds of Bunbury Primary School will spend at least the next two months in the community after being released on bail ahead of sentencing.

Ian Thornton, 55, tried to argue that he did not know the oval he was “resting” on was part of a school, despite having stayed at a hotel that backs onto the school for three weeks and admitting that he saw children “wearing red” and playing in the distance just moments before police arrived.

The disturbing details were revealed during a day-long trial in Bunbury Magistrates Court on Tuesday when Thornton tried to argue that he had a reasonable excuse to be on the school grounds because he did not know it was a school.

The court was told, Thornton’s criminal history included four counts of indecently assaulting a child under 16 – crimes he was jailed for in New South Wales in 2014.

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The trial was close to being adjourned at the start of proceedings when Thornton questioned being labelled a “child sex offender” saying the term was “a bit strong”, despite previously conceding to the facts around his criminal history.

Thornton argued that it was not what he was referred to in NSW and in Western Australia “they just whack it (child sex offender) onto anyone”.

After asking Magistrate David MacLean to show him “some leeway, like they do on TV”, Thornton conceded he was on a national register and the trial continued.

Thornton was found on the school oval about 10.40am on February 13 after police received reports of a suspicious man in the area.

Thornton’s main argument for being on the oval was that he was suffering heat stress while walking to his accommodation and that he saw a grassed area and shady tree and needed to rest.

Thornton argued that it was “unusual” for a school to have such a big oval and there was nothing that indicated it was a school, saying he had spent time in Kalgoorlie where a primary school there was surrounded by a 10 foot high chain link fence and the oval was “not as large”.

Thornton said shortly after sitting under the tree he lost consciousness, possibly fainting due to heat, but not before he saw what he described as “tiny figures in red in the distance” at the school.

Thornton also revealed he had been staying at the Admiral Motel Bunbury where he was given a room with a view out onto the school oval, but for a “great bulk of the time” it was school holidays.

Police prosecutor Sgt Karl Rep questioned how Thornton was so heat stressed on a day that reached a maximum of only 28.5 degrees and given that Thornton claimed to do a sprint session between 45 minutes to an hour everyday as a member of a local athletics club.

A police officer who was first on the scene at the school also claimed that Thornton was “sitting up” under the tree when they first saw him.

Magistrate MacLean ruled that it was “manifestly obvious” the oval was part of the school given there were cricket nets, basketball courts and school buildings close by.

He said he did not accept that Thornton was “overcome by unconsciousness or some other malady” and he was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Thornton was guilty.

Magistrate MacLean said prison was a “real option” but ordered pre-sentence, psychological and psychiatric reports ahead of sentencing, saying there was potential for injustice if Thornton was kept in custody before it was discovered he had some sort of mental illness.

Thornton was released on bail with conditions – including not being within a 5m radius of any children – ahead of sentencing in September.

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