/ 25 January 2022

Cleo Smith’s abductor pleads guilty

Image source: WA Police
Image source: WA Police

The man accused of abducting 4yo Cleo Smith from a tent in Western Oz’s Pilbara region has pleaded guilty to a charge of child stealing. Local man Terence Kelly admitted to taking the girl from a campsite at the Quobba blowholes, near Carnarvon, on 16 October and holding her for 18 days at his home. Kelly was remanded in custody until his court next appearance on 25 March, when a date for his sentencing will likely be set. Local MP Vince Catania said the guilty plea was a massive relief for the small town. “I think this is the start of the healing process for the family … but also the community of Carnarvon and the whole of Western Australia,” he said.

Kelly made the guilty plea via video link from Casuarina Prison in Perth, where he’s been held since his arrest. Reports say the 36yo appeared solemn and spent much of the hearing looking down, except to say “guilty” when asked by Magistrate Ben White how he would plead. Kelly admitted to the brazen attack as her parents slept metres away. Following one of the most extensive missing persons investigations in Australian history, Cleo was rescued after 4 detectives stormed Kelly’s home in a midnight raid. Almost 3 months later, the details of why Kelly took the girl or how police solved the case have yet to be revealed in court. Kelly is also facing a new charge for assaulting a police officer the day after his arrest but is yet to enter a plea.

No, they’ve declined to speak publicly since their daughter’s safe return, other than issuing a statement thanking the community for its support. And then we learned last week that they’ve signed a deal with the Nine Network for almost $2 million for a sitdown interview, one of the largest deals in Australian TV history. Last week, The Australian spoke to leading child psychologist Steve Zolezzi (paywall), who said it’s not safe to interview Cleo about her ordeal because of the risk that she’ll be re-traumatised. Others have speculated that plans to film the interview have been thrown into disarray by Premier Mark McGowan’s decision to keep the state’s border closed. No date has been given for the interview to air, but pundits say Kelly’s guilty plea makes it more likely that it’ll happen sooner rather than later.

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