Composer & former private school teacher Gary Featherstone (left), having just been arrested on charges he molested four boys, being escorted handcuffed to Maroubra Police Station by a senior detective. Picture: Supplied
Composer & former private school teacher Gary Featherstone (left), having just been arrested on charges he molested four boys, being escorted handcuffed to Maroubra Police Station by a senior detective. Picture: Supplied

Ex-private school music teacher’s freedom bid

AS the stony-faced Australian Federal Police officers strode out of Downing Centre Local Court in central Sydney, they approached this reporter with something on their mind.

It was May 19, 2003 and the officers had that morning just dispatched justice, seeing one of the world's most accomplished music composers Gary Maxwell Featherstone found guilty of downloading a depraved collection of more than 50,000 child pornography images.

It was a huge fall for the Sydney-born, former SCECGS Redlands and Pittwater House Grammar School teacher, a man who had performed in Paris and London, his compositions making up national exam syllabus that saw him listed in the International Who's Who as one of the 20th Century's most outstanding musicians and top 500 "leaders of (music) influence".

Their probe began in March the previous year after an FBI agent in the United States tipped them off to a child pornography website that was being heavily accessed by a computer at an address in Chatswood on Sydney's Lower North Shore.

The computer owner Featherstone was eventually arrested and charged and handed a flimsy two-year suspended sentence for his downloads, a soft sentence that would later attract condemnation from as high as then NSW Premier Bob Carr and be quashed on appeal.

But that was not what was on the minds of the AFP agents that 2003 morning.

"Mate we've taken this as far as we can on our brief and jurisdiction but there is more to this, you should look into him, some of those downloaded images and videos were homemade," one officer said, exasperated at Featherstone's then soft sentence.

Composer & former private school teacher Gary Featherstone (left), having just been arrested on charges he molested four boys, being escorted to Maroubra Police Station by a senior detective. Picture: Supplied
Composer & former private school teacher Gary Featherstone (left), having just been arrested on charges he molested four boys, being escorted to Maroubra Police Station by a senior detective. Picture: Supplied

At that stage with little to go on but a mass of images and movies which had already been earmarked for destruction, there was little interest or leads for NSW Police to pursue.

So began an investigation by News Corp Australia that would run for more than a year and amass a four-inch dossier including transcripts of interviews with alleged victims from NSW, Queensland and South Australia, witnesses and images which would eventually prompt the opening of a formal investigation by Chatswood detectives which in turn called in the NSW Child Protection Enforcement Agency and police from child abuse units in both South Australia and Queensland amid allegations there was a broader national paedophile conspiracy.

In 2006 Featherstone was sentenced to a maximum of 17 years jail with a minimum of 13 years after the then 57-year-old pleaded guilty to 12 charges of indecency and sexual acts against four boys between the ages of 11 and 14 from 1983 to 1989. Some credit was given in court to News Corp for pursing the matter.

Musician and pianist Gary Featherstone. Picture: Supplied
Musician and pianist Gary Featherstone. Picture: Supplied

Two years later and on appeal the sentence was reduced by six years and Featherstone walked free in 2011 before being rearrested in February this year for allegedly trawling the dark web via his PlayStation for child porn including kids in bondage.

Featherstone denies the latest charges of possessing child abuse material and using a carriage service to access child pornography.

In the next fortnight he will appear in court where he is reapplying for bail, already refused once with the courts finding him an unacceptable risk to the community in light of what the judge described as his "spectacular" criminal history.

I've covered many cases and run numerous transnational investigations in my almost 30 years in journalism but nothing compares with the satisfaction of having contributed to putting this man behind bars.

Musican & pianist Gary Featherstone in undated copy photo. Picture: Supplied
Musican & pianist Gary Featherstone in undated copy photo. Picture: Supplied

I agree with Judge Peter Hamill now that Featherstone deserves incarceration while he again faces court to have the latest charges judicially tested.

The break for our investigation 15 years ago came from a painfully shy and nervous man in suburban South Australia who telephoned and said he had information.

He could not talk over the phone, was also not sure we could meet. Numerous phone calls followed before we did meet in his rented single bedroom flat in outer Adelaide and after a while Peter Pilkington with a baseball cap pulled low over his eyes opened up.

It all came out in a flood between tears, a disjointed tsunami monologue dammed up for decades now coming in such a rush that it took us months to piece together timelines of people, places and faces.

It was an exhausting probe for all not least of all for the victims.

This very brave man, then a shell of a man who eventually waived his right to anonymity as a child abuse victim to speak out publicly about Featherstone, is a voice that needs to be heard again by the courts.

Gary Featherstone. Picture: Supplied
Gary Featherstone. Picture: Supplied

Featherstone's latest charges before the NSW Supreme Court carry a combined 30 years jail; if found guilty and sentenced to the maximum it is likely the 68-year-old would see out his days behind bars.



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