Update: 9th February, 2017 A District Court judge has reversed the sentence handed to Alex in 2016, clearing him and citing the previous ruling as 'ludicrous' and 'one that shouldn't be upheld, given the circumstances and context'. Update: 1st May, 2017 Detectives handling Alex's case have purported to be communicating with neo-Nazi agitators who were named by Alex in records of interview. These detectives have allegedly been 'coaching' neo Nazis in material that would have been beneficial in being successful in proceedings against Alex. Neither Alex or his lawyers were informed of these ongoing communications or the nature of the material passed on to the detectives. Further, Alex was not given an opportunity to respond to the material that was provided to the detectives from these people and therefore his lawyers' plea advice was determined without sufficient knowledge of available evidence. Grounds for appeal are available.
What charges were laid?
Charge 1: Indecent communication with a child via the Internet.
Sometime during 2014, Alex accepted friend requests from former students. In October 2014, he engaged in a conversation with one of those former students. In this conversation, Alex called the child 'cute', 'beautiful' and said that he 'missed' the student, as he did all of his former students and colleagues. During the course of the conversation, the student sent Alex a number of photos that were fully dressed, non-sexual and non-suggestive. This student was at her house with her cousin and mother present and was doing cartwheels in the house. Alex said that he liked the photos and encouraged more photos.
Alex was questioned in regards to this and did not deny holding the conversation. Investigating detectives told Alex that the conversation was 'inappropriate' but in no means 'indecent'. The mother of the child who had called police decided not to make a statement and stated that she had only contacted police after googling Alex's name and finding pages and pages of nationalist forums and social media pages that were portraying Alex as a sexual predator.
The investigating detectives told Alex that he would not be charged.
Alex admitted to engaging in one conversation that was conducted on one evening. He was not questioned over any other alleged conversations that may have been held on other occasions.
Note: Since 2010, there have been many fake Alex Gollan Facebook profiles created using Alex's own profile photos from Facebook. The person/people behind these profiles have history in not only communicating with young children, particularly from Alex's school but also in making inflammatory comments in social media groups that centre around race and gender issues.
Charge 2: Possession of child abuse material (category one - lowest)
All of Alex's computers, devices (such as iPad and phone) and storage devices (USBs and external hard drives) were taken by police and forensically investigated over a period of 20 months. At the time these belongings were taken from Alex, he was asked whether or not police would find anything of interest on the devices. Alex told detectives that there was a handful of YouTube videos in a folder that sat on the desktop of his non-password-protected laptop in a folder that was not hidden. Other contents of the folder included screenshots of unsolicited communication and acts of defamation and harassment that were intrinsically linked to the videos.
At the completion of the exhaustive search of all of Alex's belongings, all computers, storage devices and electronic devices were found to be clean. Four YouTube videos were found on Alex's laptop which police decided to apply a 'category one' (lowest) level child abuse label. These videos consisted of a video of a mother bathing her daughter, two boys running around their backyard naked with adult members of family chasing them with fly swatters and laughing, a ballet class and a video of a girl dancing with her mother sitting on the couch nearby.
Since 2005, Alex had been the target of neo-Nazis as a result of his anti-racism advocacy which had at times been antagonistic to the white nationalist community. In 2010, Alex was identified (via means of stalking) as a school teacher working for the NSW Department of Education (NSWDET) and he was then slandered as a pedophile via countless avenues of social media and nationalist forums. His school and the NSWDET were contacted regularly by anonymous nationalists who belong to right-wing political parties and the accusations ranged from labelling Alex as a pedophile to labelling Alex as a communist, a Muslim-lover, a propaganda pusher and an inciter of violence. The NSWDET made a decision to block all approaches from people who refused to provide their name/contact details. Alex was taunted and contacted on social media every day for five years. Alex was targeted by over 100 different nationalists who attacked him while using their public social media profiles. Alex was also attacked by many nationalists who operated using aliases and operating computers which accessed the Internet via untraceable virtual private networks (VPNs). Alex was regularly contacted without consent and this death threats, photos of his family members, links to gay and transsexual porn and attachments of material considered to be child abuse. Alex saved the large majority of evidence onto USBs and into a Dropbox which he shared with police.
Dropbox is a website which is blocked in all police stations around Australia. In addition, police officers are not permitted to view sensitive material held in Dropbox accounts while outside police stations. Alex was not told this on any occasion.
The four videos found on Alex's laptop were less than a week old and were each around one minute in duration. Alex's laptop was over three years old. Alex told investigating detectives that he had planned to take the evidence and the link to the Dropbox to police as he had a history of contacting police every few months to try and get assistance. Detectives acknowledged that Alex had been contacting police over the course of a decade.
The investigating detectives decided that Alex would not be charged for possession of the four videos.
Upon review of the matters, a high-ranking police officer who had not spoken with Alex and who has previously won awards for 'laying the most charges' in NSW decided that if linked together, the two issues could form a narrative and lead to sentencing if charges were laid.
Did Alex plead guilty? If so, why?
Alex pleaded guilty to the two charges for the following reasons:
1. Alex had admitted to accepting a friend request and engaging in a conversation with a former student. At no point did he deny this fact and to argue the contrary would have wasted a court's time and risked a negative sentencing. 2. Alex had told police that they would find the YouTube videos that they ended up finding. He had told police about the context in which they were obtained. Alex did not deny the existence of the videos or that he was the one responsible for making a copy into a folder on the desktop of his laptop. 3. Alex was arrested in October of 2014 and had already received major attention from the media. Alex was left in limbo for a period of 20 months of forensic electronic investigation. This was a period in which he was not able to find work and not able to stay in employment that he found due to mandatory police checks. He had matters pending for the courts. Put very simply, Alex had nothing at all in his life other than close family and friends over the course of this time and he wanted closure on the matters.
What implications did the media make towards Alex?
The media has suggested many perspectives, all negative and it is noted that certain aspects and contexts relating to the matters have been overlooked or ignored.
The media has suggested that Alex was 'grooming' his former student and inviting this student to meet privately. This is not the case. During the single conversation that Alex had with the child, he told the child to check with her mother if she was allowed to talk to him via Facebook. Alex also had the child's mother as a friend on Facebook and Alex had made reflective reference to occasions where Alex and the child (and her family) had run into each other at (a) the shopping centre and (b) the swimming pool. Upon leaving court and during Alex's second media foray, Alex was asked if he 'had anything to say to all of his students that had been in his care'. The implication made was that Alex was some kind of serial offender who had abused not only one student but many. This implication is false, misleading, damaging and invoking of a narrative.
Did the magistrate misrepresent Alex's matters?
On 30th August, 2016 the presiding magistrate (Alexander Mejivic) claimed that Alex had 'saved' four videos but that he had not saved the evidence that supported the claim that the videos had come via unsolicited communication. The screenshots that pertained specifically to the four videos were unsurprisingly on the laptop where the videos were found. Alex did not therefore have access to these screenshots and instead had provided screenshots of previous examples of unsolicited communication. As these did not pertain to the videos relating to the charge, they were not counted as evidence.
The magistrate also noted that Alex's communication with the former student had gone over a course of three months but Alex had only been interviewed in regards to one conversation which was conducted on one evening in October 2014. The magistrate did not believe that previous detective-level investigations into fake Alex Gollan profiles which had communicated with children was relevant. The magistrate did not acknowledge that there was a plethora of evidence to support Alex's claims that his email and Facebook profiles had been compromised on more than one occasion.
The lawyer representing the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) had stated that they were seeking a custodial sentence but stopped short of calling for incarceration, rather supporting a penalty that would be equal to a good behaviour bond. The magistrate did not accept this advice or acknowledge that previously comparable cases had resulted in Intensive Correction Orders (ICOs), or in other words, periods of community service.
Did Alex accept a friend request and communicate with a child?
Alex had worked at a school in Sydney's South West for around four and a half years. In this time, he had worked immensely hard for the school community and built a reputation to be someone who went above and beyond for the good of the students, the school and the wider community. It was widely accepted that Alex was one of the most popular teachers in the school and parents would write letters to the school requesting him as their children's teacher. Alex would be swarmed by students as he walked through the playground to the staffroom.
When Alex was promoted to the position of permanent Assistant Principal at a new school, his immediate reaction was to privately break down and cry while telling a colleague in private. When asked if he was happy about his promotion he said that he was but that he was devastated to be leaving behind literally hundreds of students and parents who held him in the highest esteem. He was deeply upset that he wouldn't be able to see any of them again. He was depressed that he would be starting at a new school where nobody, not even the staff knew about his hard work, commitment and passion.
When Alex received friend requests from former students and parents from a previous school, he accepted them because he was genuinely excited to connect to his popular past. He did not seek out students or make friend requests. He did not have the intentions of a pedophile or a predator of any kind.
Why did Alex save YouTube videos to his computer?
When Alex was made aware of damaging and defamatory material posted about him on the Internet, he screenshot the evidence and saved it into a folder that was later on moved to a Dropbox folder. He (or his friends) would then report the content to the host (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube etc) for removal, consistent with privacy and abuse policies. The content would sometimes be removed, and Alex would have saved the evidence.
When Alex received periodic unsolicited communication, sent in the hope of drawing him out into public slanging matches, he would screenshot the content or the links and delete the offending material. He would later on move the material to Dropbox, which, as described in points above, was actually never accessed by police that he had contacted.
If Alex was sent a link to a video on YouTube, of which there are many remaining to this very day, he would screenshot the message, the link or the attachment and then go about reporting the video. Police officers that Alex had spoken to in the past had asked questions such as 'What is a URL?' and Alex believed that a screenshot of a YouTube URL, (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RLuPGhkvps ) would be too difficult for most police officers to comprehend so he would save the video into the same folder as the screenshot before reporting it to YouTube for removal. If YouTube removed the video as requested, and a police officer was savvy enough to type the URL into an Internet browser, they would not be able to find the material.
Some police officers had advised Alex to save all evidence and document the abuse. Some police officers had advised Alex to simply ignore, delete and block the offenders. Some police didn't really know what to do with cyber crime and identity theft in general.
Were Alex's email and/or social media profiles compromised?
Yes, on several occasions.
Alex received daily attempts to access his email and social media accounts over the course of just under five years. On several occasions, Alex had to change his email accounts as he received alerts on his mobile phone that his account had been 'accessed via an unknown browser on a Windows PC'. As Alex did not own any Windows devices, he was forced to go through account retrieval processes on several occasions.
On more than one occasion, Alex lost access to his Facebook account. On these occasions, Facebook requested that Alex scan and email through sensitive documentation to prove ownership of the account. This included scans of his drivers licence, birth certificate and health card.
Why does Alex place the blame on others?
He has accepted the facts of both charges and does not deny either of them.
There is considerable conjecture surrounding the description of each charge. Investigating detectives originally decided that the conversation Alex had with a former student was not 'indecent' and decided that he wouldn't be charged. Additionally, the four YouTube videos were considered not warranting a charge.
Alex has maintained that he accepted friend requests from former students and parents because he missed all of them enormously. He was an extremely popular teacher and underwent strong symptoms of depression and emotional withdrawal when he moved away from a community that held him in high esteem. Alex has also maintained that for over ten years he was harassed and stalked on a daily basis. When it was discovered that he was a school teacher, he then faced five years of slander, threats, abuse, taunting and unsolicited contact with a pedophilia focus on a daily basis.
Alex maintains that he kept almost all incidents as documentation and that equated to literally thousands of screenshots that were kept in Dropbox folders. Several of Alex's close friends in the anti-racism community have undergone similar levels of abuse and have also kept thousands of screenshots as evidence.
Alex does not blame others for the charges he has pleaded guilty to. He has argued the context surrounding them supports the argument that he is not a pedophile.
What is Dropbox and why is it relevant to these matters?
Dropbox is a file hosting service. Files can be saved into folders which can then be opened via shared links (URLs) on a web browser. Files can also be accessed on any device that has the app installed and the user is signed in.
Many corporations and companies use firewall and proxy settings to block Dropbox as they are concerned about employees unwittingly inviting viruses into their systems via rogue Dropbox links sent through by hackers. Additionally, due to its file sharing nature, many anti-virus software systems also block Dropbox.
Over the course of a decade, Alex visited police stations in NSW and Victoria around 25 times. He was given event numbers for twelve of those visits. His reasons for visiting police stations varied: he was receiving death threats; he was being harassed and abused; he was suffering from identity theft as people were creating online profiles with his name and photos; he was receiving unsolicited communication via telecommunication services; he was being slandered and defamed as a pedophile. Not all of Alex's visits encompassed all aspects of his approaches. Often, Alex would approach a police station and when asked if he'd spoken with police on prior occasions relating to the same issues, he would be told that a new event number (case investigation) could not be created until the completion of the previous related event. On many occasions, Alex provided police with a link to view files in Dropbox.
Alex was never told that Dropbox was blocked or that police officers could not view the sensitive data.
In 2015, after Alex had already been arrested, he was contacted by a detective in Victoria who was asking for his assistance. A school teacher had contacted Victorian police, complaining about being the target of slander and defamation of the same nature that Alex had been through. Alex was contacted in regards to his capacity of being the founder of the anti-racism activist website 'TheAntiBogan'. When Alex was asked to share any information that would assist police, he provided a Dropbox link. Alex was told immediately that police were unable to use Dropbox and that he would have to mail a USB.
Summary of Alex's misdemeanours:
Alex accepted a friend request from a former student and had a conversation in which he called the former student 'cute', 'beautiful' and that he 'missed' the student as he did all students, parents and teachers. Alex did not send photos of himself. Alex did not try to make arrangements to meet up privately. Alex did not conduct other conversations with this former student on any other dates. Alex was not questioned about any other conversations that may have had such content.
Alex saved four videos from YouTube after receiving them via unsolicited communication. Alex screenshot the records of communication and reported the videos for removal from YouTube.
Summary of punishment and consequences faced:
* The NSW Department of Education placed Alex on 'alternate duties' in October 2014. He was told to sit at a desk that faced the wall from 8am - 4pm each day. The desk did not have a computer and Alex was forbidden from using his own computer while at work. Alex was not given any work to do for over a year. He was eventually dismissed due to his Working With Children Check lapsing. He was not given a termination payment.
* The NSW Department of Education instructed all teachers who knew Alex that they were not permitted to communicate with him in any way. This instruction was given before charges were even laid. Teachers faced disciplinary action if they did not adhere to these instructions. Alex therefore lost contact with all colleagues and a valuable support network.
* Alex spent over $80,000 in legal fees. A large percentage of these costs were dedicated to multiple occasions where his lawyers needed to attend court to be told that police wanted more time to conduct their investigations.
* Alex was unable to find new work due to pending court matters which appeared in mandatory police check results. Alex has not claimed any welfare payments to date.
* Alex's home address was shared without his consent amongst the media community after agreeing to participate in an interview with a journalist from the Daily Telegraph. Alex was a silent elector and thus his address and contact information was hidden from the electoral roll. Alex and his family had taken this measure back in 2010 when it was apparent that their safety was compromised by aggressive neo-Nazis who had made significant threats. After having his home address shared, media camped outside his home and Alex also reported that unwelcome visitors arrived at his home outside reasonable hours. They were fully covered and could not be identified by the security cameras that Alex had installed.
* Due to loss of income and inability to find and keep employment, Alex was forced to sell his home.
* In 2012, as a result of seven years of constant abuse, Alex was diagnosed with anxiety. In 2015, Alex was also diagnosed with depression and placed on a mental health plan and anti-depressant medication.
* In 2016, two police cars parked outside Alex's home and officers questioned him on his front steps for an hour about the disappearance of William Tyrell. This young boy had gone missing from his home eight hours away from where Alex lived. At the end of the public interrogation in which neighbours witnessed, police told Alex that they had his phone and banking details and had established with his employers (NSWDET) that he was in Sydney and nowhere near the location where William was last sighted. The police officers left. Alex was left distraught and highly shamed.
* Alex continues to be the target of hate campaigns which include the creation of fake social media profiles in his name and with his photo moving through the Internet posing as him and continuing to damage his reputation, web pages and blogs being set up to post inaccurate information and slanderous memes about him and anonymous phone calls and messages that seek to intimidate and harass. 2017 will mark the twelfth consecutive year that Alex has faced not only death threats to himself and his family but ongoing intimidation, defamation, stalking, harassment and abuse.
In addition: 1. Four files were found on Alex's computer which he claimed were shared with him via unsolicited communication. Alex had screenshots and IP addresses of the location of these files, however these screenshots were located on the computer that was in policy storage. Alex's lawyers said that it would be difficult to plead not-guilty without the screenshots that directly linked to the four files.
2. Alex had told police on countless occasions that he was being defamed as a pedophile and that he was being contacted by neo-Nazis who were using pseudonyms. Alex provided many screenshots of evidence to police but nothing eventuated. When Alex was arrested, police asked for login credentials to his computers and phone etc. Alex wanted police to access his Facebook account corroborate his claims that he was receiving unlawful and unsolicited communication but police were not interested in accepting or using his Facebook login and password. Alex's Facebook account was recently closed down, meaning all remaining evidence of unsolicited communication has vanished. When contacted, Facebook replied saying that they can only take this irreversible step when contacted by police or similar authority.
3. The detectives who were investigating and interviewing Alex told him on more than one occasion that he would not be charged for either of the two offences. They told Alex that the communication with the former student was not 'indecent' and that the history of defamation and voluntary approaches to police provided an adequate context for the four files found on Alex's computer. The investigating detectives also acknowledged the previous and continuing presence of many fake 'Alex Gollan' Facebook profiles which had on previous occasions communicated with Alex's students.
4. The media coverage has been unethical. Disproportionate coverage has been applied and lack of context has withheld a frame of reference for the public. Additionally, there has been selective omission of many facts. The media has breached various aspects of the News Limited Professional Code of Conduct in reporting on Alex's situation.
- 1.2 Publications should take reasonable steps to ensure reports are accurate, fair and balanced. - 1.4 Try always to tell all sides of the story in any kind of dispute. Every effort must be made to contact all relevant parties. - 1.5 Do not knowingly withhold or suppress essential facts - 1.10 Information sourced from social media must be verified and checked for accuracy before publication on any platform. - 3.2 Do not try to get information or photographs by deception - 4.2 Unless it is in the public interest to do so, do not identify the family or friends of people accused of, or convicted of, a crime. - 7.1 Do not harass or try to intimidate people when seeking information or photographs. - 7.2 Do not photograph people on their property without their consent unless the public interest in doing so is clear - 7.3 If asked to leave private property, do so promptly. - 7.4 Do not persist in telephoning, pursuing, questioning, door-stopping or obstructing access after you have been asked by an authorised person to stop. - 10.3 Do not approach children in schools without the permission of a school authority
5. An exorbitant amount of police resources have been thrown at Alex since September, 2014. Several detectives and countless police officers have worked on this case. Forensic investigators and the Department of Public Prosecutions have all spent countless hours at an enormous cost to the taxpayer. It is understandable that the DPP now seek an outcome that will justify such expenditure, especially when the two charges were originally not going to be placed.
The images below represent around 10% of the images provided to NSW Police via Dropbox and USB over a 6-7 year period: