Frank Shipp leaves Caloundra Courthouse on Wednesday. Picture: Patrick Woods.
Frank Shipp leaves Caloundra Courthouse on Wednesday. Picture: Patrick Woods.

Bird World boss sentenced for sexual assault

Early onset dementia has been blamed for sexual assaults at the hands of the owner of a renowned tourism park.

Maleny Botanic Gardens and Bird World owner Frank Shipp, 69, was on Wednesday fined for groping and touching a woman 40 years his junior.

Defence lawyer Chelsea Emery told Caloundra Magistrates Court that Shipp had all the signs of early onset dementia which contributed to his behaviour at the park earlier this year.

Frank Shipp leaves Caloundra Courthouse with lawyer Chelsea Emery. Picture: Patrick Woods.
Frank Shipp leaves Caloundra Courthouse with lawyer Chelsea Emery. Picture: Patrick Woods.

Police prosecutor Mark Burrell said Shipp told the woman he needed help with something and drove her to an isolated area of the park.

Shipp then changed his story, telling the woman he actually did not need her help and that he wanted to show her a "pretty place".

"The victim was very uncomfortable with the situation she was in," Constable Burrell said.

"The defendant told the victim he was tempted to do the pencil test on her and she told him not to do that.

"The defendant moved close to the victim and used his index finger to jiggle her right breast."

He told the woman he was doing the "finger test" to see if her breast would hold a pencil.

They then drove back to the main area of the park.

The woman was again sexually assaulted when Shipp leaned back in the vehicle.

"He touched the top part of her groin and leg area," Constable Burrell said.

He said Shipp was also facing charges of common assault for his conduct towards the woman over a six-week period leading up to the sexual assault.

Details of the behaviour were not read to the court.

Shipp on Wednesday pleaded guilty to two counts of common assault and two counts of sexual assault.

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He had no criminal history.

Ms Emery said her client spoke to the woman about "a lot of personal stuff" and did not usually behave inappropriately towards women.

"In no way does he put blame on the complainant other than to suggest that he believed what was her friendly personality- she would touch, she would contact him by text message- he absolutely, well and truly misconstrued those communications by her," Ms Emery said.

She said the prosecution had overlooked the mitigating feature of Shipp's declining cognitive function, described in a letter from a psychologist.

"As part of early onset dementia, certainly behavioural aspects do change," Ms Emery said.

The court heard Shipp bought his property at Maleny in 2005 before opening the tourism attraction in 2012.

Ms Emery said Shipp was close with his three children, one who lived in New Zealand.

She said a conviction being recorded could impact Shipp being able to travel to see his children and grandchildren, and impact his business insurance.

Magistrate Haydn Stjernqvist said Shipp had put some thought and planning into the sexual assault.

He said disclosures that Shipp made to his psychologist contrasted Ms Emery's submission that cognitive impairment played a role in the offending.

"Mr Shipp said he felt his upbringing and cultural ideologies may have contributed to his blur in personal boundaries," Mr Stjernqvist said.

"He noted that the rules were different in Australia compared with in South Africa, and that sexual inappropriate behaviour like groping were common and a systemic issue in South Africa."

Mr Stjernqvist said the psychological damage of the assault would impact the victim for a long time.

Shipp was fined $2000 and ordered to pay the victim $2000 in compensation.

No convictions were recorded.


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