AN IRAQ and Afghanistan war veteran who inappropriately touched two girls while helping them with gymnastics at a Baldivis playground has been spared an immediate jail term.
Stuart Phillip Bugeja, 36, stood trial and was convicted of four counts of indecently dealing with two girls, aged 11 and 12, at the park in January 2017.
The girls were doing cartwheels and gymnastics exercises when Bugeja approached them, then suggested they do stretching exercises, the WA District Court heard on Wednesday.
Judge Troy Sweeney rejected the suggestion Bugeja was expressing concern for the girls’ safety, saying they were not in any danger.
When one girl asked Bugeja if he was a sports teacher, he replied: “Something like that.”
“You offered your assistance as if you were some sort of coach, and I find that the girls just naturally bowed to your greater age and your attitude of friendly authority,” Judge Sweeney said.
Bugeja’s offending was filmed on a mobile phone, which was played during the trial.
Judge Sweeney said it was more than fleeting touches and the crime was sexually motivated, but it was not premeditated, forceful or threatening.
She described the girls as naive to knowing what was happening initially, but they were later upset, and must have felt violated and embarrassed.
“It’s a tragic thing that in today’s society children can’t just play safely in a local park or oval without being at risk,” Judge Sweeney said.
“Parents nowadays are more likely to feel they have to be over-protective and keep their children in their sight at all times.”
Judge Sweeney acknowledged Bugeja had served his country, having spent nine years in the army specialising in electronic warfare.
She also accepted the offending was out of character, but said he had not showed remorse or insight.
Bugeja was at an average risk of reoffending and would benefit from one-on-one counselling, she said.
The court also heard Bugeja had a harsh and dysfunctional childhood, and had mild autism spectrum disorder but no intellectual disability.
He was sentenced to 15 months in prison, wholly suspended, with supervision and program requirements.