Jail for man who exploited girls in the Philippines

A Victorian man who exploited disadvantaged girls in the Philippines by paying for sexual acts and images has been jailed for four years.

The electronic devices Phillip John Cooper kept at his home and in a storage locker at work contained online conversations, images and videos, including a 24-minute video “show” he paid a teenage girl for and photographs of girls aged 11 and 12 he ordered from their mother.

Cooper had regular interactions with the Filipina from December 2018 until his arrest on November 7, 2019, at Melbourne Airport on a return flight from Manila, when authorities discovered an explicit online conversation on his mobile phone. Laptops and hard drives found in searches of his home at Barnawartha on the NSW border and a storage locker in Karratha, Western Australia, revealed a catalogue of depravity.

County Court judge Justin Hannebery said in the most serious example, Cooper recorded a video made by a girl – believed to be 13 at the time – where he instructed her via Skype to undress and perform lewd acts.

“You were 45 years older than her,” Judge Hannebery said. “She told you directly that she was hungry and her mother was unable to afford the food she wanted.

“You used her hunger and her poverty as leverage to get a child to engage in sexual activity with you in exchange for $38. You blatantly exploited this situation for your own sexual gratification. That makes your moral culpability for this offence especially high.”

Judge Hannebery on Wednesday jailed the 61-year-old father of an adult daughter and son for four years and one month after he previously pleaded guilty to five charges including engaging in sexual activity with a child outside Australia and soliciting and possessing child abuse material.

He must serve two years and six months before he is eligible for parole.

Federal police believe Cooper also planned to visit the 13-year-old girl on another trip to the Philippines. On his arrest, he said he visited the country every fortnight and had previously lived there.

The main victim told police she had been separated from her mother, was upset at the video and felt sick whenever she thought about “how Phil destroyed my life”. Before his sentence, the court heard Cooper would pay the girl $40,000 compensation, which his lawyer said illustrated the offender’s remorse and contrition.

Judge Hannebery said Cooper was indifferent to the plight of the children he exploited, was persistent, and so long as he was part of a global scourge he posed a danger to children whenever he had access to the internet. But psychologists reported he had since developed insight and empathy towards his victims.

Cooper spent most of his working life as a train driver in Victoria and in 2008 began working for Rio Tinto in the Pilbara, until the mining giant sacked him when it learnt of his charges. His crimes had left him ostracised in his community, the court heard, and caused strain among his siblings. His daughter had not spoken to him since his arrest, but his son remained supportive.

Judge Hannebery also acknowledged Cooper’s prison stint would be onerous after two heart attacks in the past two years.

Members of the community who have information about people involved in child abuse material are urged to report their suspicions through the “Report Child Abuse” link of the AFP website or via Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Support is available from the National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service at 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

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