Multi-millionaire Ron Brierley has a "disorder" that lies behind his attraction to young girls, a Sydney court hearing has been told during a sentencing hearing over his possession of illicit child imagery.
The corporate icon's lawyers told the court Brierley should be spared prison even as police prosecutors rejected claims he was unaware the child abuse images found on his electronic devices were illegal.
Brierley, 84, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing child abuse material after he was found with thousands of images on computer hard drives.
Australian Border Force officers uncovered the images, mostly of children aged around 11 years old, in his carry-on luggage as he prepared to board a holiday flight to Fiji.
The prosecution at today's hearing call for him to be jailed and his lawyer asked for leniency. The sentence will be handed down in October and Brierley will remain on bail until then.
The Downing Street Local Court in Sydney was told Brierley's success brought fame and power but had also ensured his fall from grace was an extremely public affair.
His barrister, Tim Game, SC, said that Brierley had lost his knighthood, had his name "scrubbed" from cricket pavilions and become a social pariah.
"Public recognition was a terribly important part of his own life and his image of himself," Game said. "The downfall has been complete to the point donations are not accepted or returned if given."
Game said Brierley had dealt with his attraction to prepubescent girls for many years and it was a "significant affliction" and "disorder" for the businessman.
"He has kept this to himself and has been troubled by it for a long period of time," Game said.
"Maybe because he's been forced to, he does appreciate the seriousness of the wrong done."
The court had previously heard Brierley believed the images were "perfectly okay", saying they were available online and he looked at them for "recreation".
Crown Prosecutor Sean Hughes urged Judge Sarah Huggett to reject any claim Brierley thought the images were legal.
He pointed to one specific, explicit image, saying "the high-functioning Mr Brierley" must have known it was illegal.
Brierley has sought permission to serve his time in the community on a release order.
The prosecution argued that jail was necessary to send a message to others that "real girls" were in the images Brierley collected.
"A message has to be sent to those in the community who sit in a darkened room with little fear of being caught that, if they are caught, they will be properly denounced," Hughes said.
"Not by being stripped of their knighthood but properly denounced by way of a meaningful, substantial penalty. They should expect a jail sentence, a heavy jail sentence."
Brierley's lawyers say he had suffered significant cognitive decline since his arrest in 2019 and he requires his vast resources to keep himself functioning.
He had the beginnings of dementia and vascular disease, Game said, and had moved away from positions of responsibility.
Brierley did not appear in the Sydney court in person - neither did any of the lawyers - because the city's coronavirus pandemic has forced all hearings to be conducted remotely.
Brierley pleaded guilty to three charges, down from the initial 17 charges laid by the prosecution. He was arrested in December 2019 after being stopped at Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport.
He pleaded guilty this year and an inquiry was launched into whether he should be stripped of his knighthood. Before a decision could be made, Brierley voluntarily surrendered it.
Wellington College, which has benefited from Brierley's philanthropy, removed signs bearing his name from its facilities. Cricket Wellington, where Brierley had been patron, has said it is reviewing his status as a Life Member.
While waiting on sentencing, Brierley has been bailed to his Pt Piper mansion on Sydney's waterfront. It has allowed him the relative freedom to stroll nearby Double Bay and to be driven around Sydney's exclusive eastern suburbs. The Herald identified Brierley as still having internet access after his arrest with the emergence of an email sent in February 2020.
In it, Brierley told Wellington College: "Ironically, of course, I'm exactly the same person as I have always been."
Brierley has been a towering figure in Australasian business. His rise began in New Zealand in the 1960s through identifying asset-rich companies that offered low returns to shareholders, staging raids and turning stagnant wealth into shareholder returns.
By the 1980s, Brierley had extended his business to Australia, and then on a global footing through the 1990s and onwards. In 1988, while chairman of the Bank of New Zealand, his contribution to business and philanthropy led to a knighthood.
He retired as a director from BIL in 2001 then from the chairman's role at Guinness Peat Group in 2010, bowing out as a director in 2015. In June 2019, he retired as chairman of Mercantile Investments, a Sydney-based boutique with $80m invested.
- Daily Telegraph
Sexual harm: Where to get help:
• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.
• Alternatively contact your local police station
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.