A man who laughed and smiled after the remainder of his sentence was suspended after pleading guilty to unlawfully killing a four-year-old boy has outraged the Queensland Premier and prompted the Attorney-General to consider appealing the decision to release him.
After pleading guilty in the Supreme Court in Brisbane yesterday to the manslaughter of Tyrell Cobb, Matthew Ian Scown was sentenced to four years in prison.
Because he had already spent two years and eight months in custody, the remainder of his sentence was suspended and he walked free.
Scown smiled as he was asked questions by reporters leaving court and began laughing when a cameraman stumbled in the media scrum.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the reaction of Scown upon his release yesterday was “completely insensitive”.
Asked to respond to anger expressed at Scown’s response, she said: “I’m angry too. How insensitive for this man to be laughing after the death of his stepson.”
“Absolutely unacceptable and I think everybody is feeling it today.”
Scown is the former de facto partner of Tyrell’s mother, Heidi Strbak, who is also charged with manslaughter.
Tyrell was found unconscious inside an apartment at Biggera Waters on the Gold Coast in 2009 and later died in hospital.
The court heard Tyrell died from an abdominal injury.
Justice Martin Burns told the court it was not suggested Scown knew about or inflicted the fatal blow on the little boy.
Attorney-General requests brief on possible appeal
Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath has asked the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for a brief on a possible appeal in the case.
“The public was rightly disturbed by the response of Mr Matthew Scown as he left court yesterday after sentencing,” Ms D’Ath told Parliament.
As well as a briefing from the DPP, Ms D’Ath has asked the Sentencing Advisory Council to look into the general issue of sentences in child death cases.
“It is worth noting that no particular case has triggered this referral [to the Sentencing Advisory Council], rather the Palaszczuk Government has recognised an ongoing concern in the community that needs to be explored,” she said.
“Once the terms of reference are released, I encourage the community to have their say on this important issue.
“When the death of a child occurs, we are all heartbroken, but when these deaths occur at the hands of another person, we all want to ensure that the community’s expectations are being met in the justice system.”
Prosecutor Phil McCarthy told the court Scown called triple-0 when Tyrell began vomiting after he was put to bed by his mother and told the operator “it looks like he’s going to die”.
“He never regained consciousness,” he told the court.
“[There was] … a total of 53 bruises and 17 abrasions.”
In sentencing yesterday, Justice Burns said he acknowledged that Scown had asked Ms Strbak to seek medical attention for Tyrell the day he died.
“Clearly you were very worried about the little boy,” he said.
“You ought to have acted yourself, regardless of her wishes.”
Ms Palaszczuk said the judge “obviously made the decision based on the evidence”.
Ignoring child abuse ‘deserves harsher penalty’
Hetty Johnston from child advocacy group Bravehearts said there was no excuse for ignoring child abuse and people who did not speak up deserved to face harsher penalties.
“If you haven’t done it, but you know it’s happening and you haven’t done anything to stop it, you’re as guilty as the perpetrator,” she said.
“So speed it up Government, get it sorted, get some legislation in place, just do this thing and give our kids a chance, for goodness sake.
“This is unacceptable – we need to have a legislative response to this that is harsh and that is in the best interest of children and reflects our concern and our love for our kids and our respect for their rights to be safe – their human rights.”