Child sex charges: Innocent man’s 7 months of hell
Stephen Thompson* was ordered to lie face-first on the road while one of many heavily armed police officers pressed him into the bitumen and cable-tied his hands behind his back.
"I was confident that they made a horrible mistake," Mr Thompson said.
"I'm thinking: Any second now they're going to realise they've got the wrong guy here and they're going to pull me up off the road and go 'Shit, sorry about that'."
He was wrong.
It would be a seven-month legal battle before the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions withdrew all 88 charges just before Christmas.
It was May 20, 2020. Mr Thompson had begun an ordinary day. He kissed his wife and kids goodbye before leaving home for work. He had driven only 200m when he noticed two black Toyota LandCruisers marked with NSW Police and Public Order logos, plus another police van.
"I just remember thinking: 'What on earth is going on here? But (it's got) nothing to do with me', so I just kept driving towards (my office)," Mr Thompson said.
"(Then one of the vehicles) came up alongside me, and it was full of people in riot gear with windows down, and (they were) screaming - I was then in absolute shock as I realised it was me they were chasing.
"I just remember the constant yelling and screaming, telling me to get out of my car. I was then frisked and told to take off my boots and turn my socks inside out.
"I just could not believe what was happening. It was just so surreal and like something out of a TV show … I just kept thinking: 'What on earth is going on here? This is a massive mistake'."
More turned up. Police dogs. Riot Squad police. They all surrounded him.
"I then recall being approached by a couple of detectives who asked me my name and then said I was under arrest for child sex offences," Mr Thompson said.
He was cuffed and taken to the local police station where he learned the full extent of the charges.
And it was as bad as it gets - 88 individual charges and allegations that he had inflicted some of the worst sexual violence imaginable against a young girl over a decade, starting in 2007.
The allegations also included the making and distribution of child sex images and firearms offences.
The father of two was placed in a cell while police searched every corner of his home in front of his terrified wife and two young children.
He soon received a call from his lawyer, Simon Joyner, who said the charges were so serious that police had refused him bail.
"I just thought: 'How on earth can this happen to someone?'," Mr Thompson said.
"I have done nothing wrong but these people have invaded my life and taken my freedom."
Some hours later, one of the detectives came to Mr Thompson's cell and gave him a 20-plus page summary of the offences he was accused of committing.
"I felt sick the more I read, it was absolutely disgusting," he said.
"It was so extreme and crazy … After reading the 88 charges, I just broke down.
"I could just imagine the rumours circulating around the district by now and (that I was) branded a paedophile."
Mr Thompson spent six days behind bars before Mr Joyner ran a bail application and he was released from Parklea Prison.
The following day, FACS turned up at his home and his children had to live at an alternative address because of the nature of the charges.
Meanwhile, word was spreading around town and his business contacts and networks were deserting him.
"I met with the owner of the business to which I was a contractor and while he supported me on a personal level, he informed me that his business could have no further public association with me due to the nature of the charges," he said.
The tipping point on the case came on June 11.
Mr Thompson has authorised the material and correspondence from his case to be released to tell what happened leading to his charges being dropped.
Mr Joyner wrote to the police in charge of the case and requested all of the charges be withdrawn.
The solicitor submitted that the allegations made by the girl never occurred.
"I say it is a fabrication from a child that has mental health issues of which NSW Police should be aware exists," Mr Joyner wrote.
One of the key points was a statement the girl made to police after Mr Thompson's arrest, claiming Mr Thompson had also murdered six people in the favoured hunting ground of serial killer Ivan Milat.
"It is alleged (the girl) witnessed my client shoot someone," Mr Joyner wrote.
"Further … (the girl alleges) my client showed her the remains of people (maybe three), she says my client 'killed' … in Belanglo (State Forest)."
But there were not six unsolved murders that matched up to what the girl described.
Mr Joyner also pointed out there was no evidence supporting the sex allegations, including evidence of injuries that would have been inflicted, DNA evidence or the discovery of any firearms or ammunition.
There were also conflicting elements of the girl's account, like the locations of where certain people lived during the alleged attacks, Mr Joyner wrote.
The case against Mr Thompson appeared to have been sunk, but the justice system is notorious for moving at a glacial pace.
When the matter finally appeared in the Downing Centre Local Court on December 22, the prosecutor told Deputy Chief Magistrate Jane Mottley that all the charges against Mr Thompson were being withdrawn.
Reflecting on the seven-month ordeal, Mr Thompson is surprisingly pragmatic.
"I cannot understand or grasp how someone could do something so evil but I hope she can get the support she needs to become a respectable individual," he said.
He also said he understands that police investigating child sex offences often only have the word of the victim to go on and have to act quickly to protect children.
"I appreciate the difficult work and huge challenges the police face in performing their job to protect children," he said.
"But, surely, the system needs to be changed so there are more checks and balances of allegations and the people making them to reduce the chance of innocent people experiencing what I have been through."
Mr Thompson's case will return to court next month where it is understood he will make an application to have the state pay his legal costs.
He is also considering whether to pursue a civil claim for malicious prosecution or wrongful arrest and detention.
* Identity has been changed to comply with a court non-publication order to protect the identity of the complainant
Originally published as Child sex charges: Innocent man's 7 months of hell