By Sahar Adatia and Jimmy Singh.
It was the terrifying moment a five-year-old child was grabbed by a stranger in broad daylight in an alleged abduction attempt on the streets of Canberra’s CBD, leaving members of the public to intervene and restrain the man before police could arrive.
According to reports from The Canberra Times, the incident took place around 1pm on 15 August 2020 when 26-year-old John Michael Gray allegedly seized the child, “who was not known to him”, near Petrie Plaza in Civic.
Holding the child, Mr Gray then allegedly dashed towards a laneway nearby.
Luckily, the child’s mother was able to shout out and members of the public quickly chased the man.
Police allege at this point Mr Gray let go of the child – and also happened to drop a knife that he was carrying.
The man was apprehended at the scene by citizens as police were called for.
He was arrested and taken to the ACT Watch House where he was questioned.
Mr Gray was charged with two offences: unlawfully taking a child and possessing a knife in a public place.
Mr Gray Faces ACT Magistrates Court Via Video Link; Is Referred for Mental Health Assessment
On 17 August, Mr Gray appeared in the ACT Magistrates Court via video link.
He was observed with his head bowed as his charges of unlawfully taking a child and possessing a knife were formally read to him.
While no new details of the case were emerged in the court, due to a request from Mr Gray’s lawyers, Magistrate James Lawton instead issued a referral for a mental health assessment to be carried out before any future court action.
Mr Gray was advised he would remain in custody until the assessment is complete.
Public Outcry Over Attempted Child Abduction Incident
As news was shared of the attempted child abduction across media sites, members of the public were sent into an uproar, with many quick to express their scorn over the incident.
In fact, one statement of the child abduction shared to Facebook by ABC Canberra received over 1,100 comments from the public, many of which echoed a similar sentiment of disapproval towards the offender’s actions.
“If you harm a child you prove there is no place in a civilised society for you. Your rights are gone,” wrote one user.
“I’m so glad he has been caught. Let’s hope the legal system can now step up and give him more than a slap on the wrist,” another user commented, which was reiterated by another person who wrote, “Terrifying. Hope he gets locked up and dealt with as he should be. No excuses!”
One user said, “Just terrifying. I hope the child is somewhat unaware. The parent must be totally traumatised. 10/10 for the public who helped. Thank goodness the child is safe”.
A man who witnessed the incident also wrote, “Having witnessed it, I can tell you those who went to the aid of the parent were amazing. The staff of the retail shop that they exited proper to the incident were also amazing, never underestimate just how many good people are out there”.
Similarly, a Top Fan commented, “My heart goes out to the child and their family. It’s good to know we live in a community where people are so willing to help others”.
Meanwhile, addressing the attempted child abduction with the media, ACT Policing Detective Superintendent Jason Kennedy acknowledged the efforts of passers-by who helped.
“Police would like to thank the members of the public that assisted the mother of the child and assisted in chasing down the man and getting the child back,” Detective Superintendent Kennedy said.
“Police are unable to say anything more because the matter is before the court.”
In NSW, it is against the law to abduct a child.
The law and penalty on child abduction is outlined in section 87 of the Crimes Act 1900.
Under this section, a “child” is defined as a person under 12 years of age.
Section 87 outlines that a person is guilty of child abduction if he/she takes or detains a child with the intention to remove or keep the child from lawful control of a person who has parental responsibilities of the child, without the consent of that person.
Additionally, a person is also guilty of child abduction if he/she takes or detains a child with the intention of stealing from the child.
The law prescribes up to 10-years in jail for the offence of child abduction in NSW.
Have a question on this law? Call our Sydney criminal lawyers today.