Hey Dad! star Robert Hughes has been sentenced to at least six years in jail for sexually abusing young girls, with a judge describing him as a sexual predator who abused his position of trust.
Hughes was convicted of 10 child sex charges on April 7, after a trial lasting five weeks. The convictions included seven counts of indecent assault, two counts of sexual assault and one count of assault with an act of indecency.
The 65-year-old actor showed no emotion as Judge Peter Zahra handed down his decision in the District Court on Friday. The sentence means Hughes will stay in custody until April 2020 at the earliest. His maximum sentence is 10 years and nine months.
A number of Hughes' victims who were gathered in the court gasped in relief as the sentence was handed down. "Thank God," one woman was heard to exclaim.
Speaking outside court, Hughes' lawyer, Greg Walsh, said the former actor was "devastated" by the decision.
"He's very upset — jail isn't a pleasant place, " Mr Walsh said. "This is a very severe sentence. I'm quite shocked."
He reiterated an earlier pledge to appeal against the conviction handed down to his client. The court heard that between 1983 and 1991, the actor molested four girls aged between six or seven and 15 years of age.
"The offender engaged in a systematic pattern of sexual abuse by upon young girls over a number of years, " Judge Zahra said in his remarks on sentence. "His conduct was brazen ... he engaged in predatory behaviour."
In the case of two young girls, Hughes came into the rooms where they were sleeping and sexually assaulted them as they lay terrified in bed. One recalled Hughes telling her "good girl ... here's your teddy", before leaving the room.
The other girl said the actor licked her face before leaving. Another victim recalled a trip to Manly when she was about eight years old during which Mr Hughes forced her to swim through his legs while he exposed himself, then trapped her by closing his legs, preventing her from resurfacing.
Hughes also forced her to put her head on his erect penis on another occasion, under the guise of giving her medication for an ear infection. The final victim was a woman who worked with Hughes on Hey Dad!. The actor exposed himself to her behind the set as she lay drawing — pulling his pants down, staring at her and waggling his penis from side to side.
The trial heard that Hughes regularly and repeatedly exposed himself to women. Members of the TV show's wardrobe staff spoke of the actor's habit of napping naked in his dressing room, having instructed staff to come in and wake him up.
On Friday, Judge Zahra said he accepted the evidence of these tendency witnesses and he was thus satisfied that Hughes' sexual misconduct "spans some 20 years from 1984 to 2004".
The jury rejected Hughes' claim that many of the allegations against him were the result of rampant rumours allegedly spread through a north shore private school that some of the complainants had attended. They rejected his repeated denials while giving evidence, as well as those of his de facto partner, actors' agent Robyn Gardiner, and their daughter, Jessica Hughes.
In sentencing Hughes, Judge Zahra said that his continual denials indicated that he had showed "no remorse or insight" for his crimes. However, his honour did find that Hughes would suffer more in jail than others because of his high profile and the great deal of media coverage the case had received.
"The offender is in fear for his safety because of the publicity and the abuse made towards him by other prisoners," Judge Zahra said. "I take into account that the offender is likely to experience harsher conditions while in custody. "
During a sentencing submissions hearing last month, Judge Zahra acknowledged that he would be required to sentence Hughes in accordance with sentencing laws in the 1980s. This was a time when sentences for child sex offences were much lower and when offenders typically received a sentence that was a third to half of their maximum sentence.
Survivors of Hughe's abuse spoke of the effect of his offending on their lives. They had suffered eating disorders, extremely low self esteem, an inability to be intimate with men and an ongoing fear of what men — including Hughes — were going to do to them.
Crown Prosecutor Gina O'Rourke urged the judge to impose a sentence befitting the "very serious" nature of the offending. She pointed to the fact that Hughes continued to abuse young girls after being questioned by police in 1985 as evidence of his lack of insight into his crimes, which would inhibit any chance of rehabilitation. But Mr Walsh said his client had been the victim of an
"extensive and pervasive media campaign which had caused him to be vilified and denounced over an extensive period of time."
Mr Walsh presented a report from Sydney psychiatrist Olav Nielssen, which stated that, at 65, the former actor was a "very low risk" of re-offending and had good chances of rehabilitation. But Ms O'Rourke said that Hughes' statements to the psychiatrist had been untruthful, incomplete and were characterised by an attempt to "minimise his offending".
The psychiatrist said that while most offenders in Hughes' position "fell to pieces" he had remained "stoic".
"Generally there's something quite creepy and distressful about child sex offenders. I didn't detect that anything of that nature from Mr Hughes. I qualify that by noting that he's a professional actor."