National

'Every parent's worst nightmare'

'Every parent's worst nightmare'
A man who abducted a seven-year-old girl from a Queensland Kmart and sexually assaulted her in nearby bushland has been jailed for a maximum of eight years.
Sterling Mervyn Free, 27, was sentenced today after luring the girl from Kmart at Westfield North Lakes, north of Brisbane, in December last year.
He attacked the girl in bushland and returned her to the shopping centre more than hour later.
Sterling Free is a father of two daughters. (Supplied)
Free was today sentenced by Judge Julie Dick to eight years behind bars. He will be eligible for parole in August 2021, after serving two years and 10 months of his sentence.
Free had pleaded guilty to deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecent treatment of a child under 12.
He faced a sentencing hearing on Tuesday when members of the public gallery cried as footage of the abduction was played in court.
The video shows Free, a father of two daughters, milling around the toy section of Kmart for about 20 minutes around lunchtime before the girl follows him closely out of the store and centre.
Sterling Free will spend a maximum of eight years in jail. (Supplied)
Sterling Free walks from the Kmart store, followed by a seven-year-old girl (blurred in yellow). (9News)
Video shows the girl in the arms of her mother at the service desk.
In sentencing Free, Judge Dick described the video as "chilling, opportunistic and predatory" and the attack as "every parent's worst nightmare".
Prosecutors said Free's brazen, determined and predatory offending has had significant impact on the girl.
A pornography addict with a pedophilic disorder who was himself abused, Free had trouble controlling his impulses, the court heard.
'Tiny innocent girl'
The girl's mother has warned parents that teaching their children about "stranger danger" may not be enough to protect them.
In a statement released via Denise Morcombe – the mother of murdered Sunshine Coast boy Daniel Morcombe – the mother said no child should have to suffer what her daughter did.
"My tiny innocent girl was well aware of stranger danger, however this person was friendly to her and tricked her into following him," the mother said.
"No child should ever have to go through this type of trauma, and no sentence will ever be long enough to make up for the ongoing effects this will have on her.
"We, as a family, remain positive and are trying to move forward."
She thanked Queensland police, the public prosecutor "and the Australian public for their support throughout this ordeal".