Blackshirt gets suspended jail term

By Chee Chee Leung
September 30, 2004

The Age

The leader of the Blackshirts fathers' group walked free from court yesterday after receiving a suspended jail term for stalking a divorced mother.

A County Court judge described John Abbott's conduct as grotesque and frightening, before imposing a four-month prison sentence, suspended for 18 months.

The 58-year-old was found guilty on Tuesday of stalking the woman in September 2001 by holding two protests outside her eastern suburbs home.

Abbott and three or four other men wore black uniforms and masked their faces with scarves in what the judge described as "quite grotesque" behaviour.

Judge Leslie Ross said the Blackshirts' intimidating attire was synonymous with European oppression, and led to a "most harrowing and frightening" situation.

He said it was unacceptable and unpardonable that the group used a loudspeaker and named the woman, who was formerly married to an associate of Abbott. The men also distributed leaflets to the woman's neighbours that said she was in a child-access dispute and described her as a "so-called mother".

"An individual was targeted and it was humbug for Mr Abbott to argue that this was an exercise in democratic rights," Judge Ross said.

He told Abbott he had no right to intervene on behalf of those involved in Family Court disputes, and said the offences had psychological consequences for his victim.

The woman, who was in court for yesterday's hearing, said she was pleased Abbott had been found guilty, but declined to comment further.

In pre-sentence submissions, Abbott, of Upper Coomera, Queensland, said he never intended to intimidate or harass. "I don't have a guilty mind because I didn't mean any harm."

He pleaded not guilty to the charge, and was acquitted of a second stalking charge relating to allegations made by another woman who was also involved in a child-access dispute.

Abbott called two character witnesses, including federal election candidate Gary Schorel-Hlavka of the Aged and Disability Pensioners Party.

Mr Schorel-Hlavka, who is running in the seat held by Labor deputy leader Jenny Macklin, said Abbott was genuine in his beliefs but "goes off the track".

Judge Ross said that, in mitigation, police were advised of the protests, which were short and lacked physical aggression. He noted that Abbott had not targeted the woman since.

"I am well aware and I accept that Mr Abbott was driven by a personal zeal. What transpired here is he stepped over the line."

Abbott later vowed that his group would continue protesting - but would no longer name those women they were demonstrating against.

A trial for three other Blackshirts was adjourned until January next year.