The alleged mastermind of a network that smuggled women and children around Australia will be forced to wear a GPS tracker when he is released on bail.
- Doctor accused of financing a child-stealing syndicate has been granted bail
- The syndicate allegedly helped mothers who had taken children from their fathers
- A two-year investigation by AFP led to the charges
Doctor William Russell Pridgeon, 64, is accused of financing the syndicate, which allegedly helped mothers who committed parental abductions.
Australian Federal Police said the women and children were hidden in locations around the country, using aliases and disguises to avoid authorities.
Dr Pridgeon is charged with conspiracy to defeat justice and dealing in proceeds of crime.
On Friday, police added charges including stalking and child stealing.
Dr Pridgeon was extradited from NSW to Queensland and was granted bail in the Brisbane Magistrates Court this afternoon under strict conditions.
Investigators claim several of the mothers approached the network because they feared the children were being sexually abused by their fathers.
In breach of court orders, they then went on the run with the help of the network, police allege.
“The level of sophistication with this case, especially with encryption communication, is quite high,” Commonwealth prosecutor Christine Wilson said.
Prosecutors said they were willing to accept Dr Pridgeon’s release on bail if he agreed to report daily to police, not come to Queensland unless for court matters, hand over his Australian, New Zealand and Zimbabwean passports and stay off social media.
He is also not allowed to contact witnesses or other co-accused.
Police said Dr Pridgeon, a GP and anti-paedophile political party founder, allegedly bought a yacht and was planning to leave the country — possibly with mothers and children on board.
But defence lawyer Andrew Owens said that was untrue.
“He has a yacht … he’s wanting to retire shortly and this was going to be a venture for him,” Mr Owens said.
Another co-accused, 63-year-old Patrick Finbar McGarry O’Dea, was also granted bail with similar conditions.
Mr Owens said his clients were relieved to be on bail.
“It’s going to be a long process, it was a long process up until today so the main focus was getting them out, back home and now we can deal with them as they come,” Mr Owens said.
“We haven’t seen really any brief of evidence but we’ll have to see exactly what the evidence has because they’re quite unique charges.
“It’s certainly not a nice experience that’s for sure, they weren’t enjoying it in there [custody] but, like I said, they’re out now and they can focus on defending themselves or making it right.”
Police allege Mr O’Dea used social media to portray some of the fathers in custody cases as child abusers.
Both men will return to court in Brisbane on December 7.
The men were arrested during raids by Australian Federal Police investigators across the country, including Dubbo and Grafton in NSW, Townsville in Queensland, and various locations in Perth.
Police said during their two-year investigation, 10 children had been safely returned after being abducted.
Five of them are linked to this particular group, police said.