Sterling Free, 26, was arrested on Monday night and charged with taking a child for immoral purposes, deprivation of liberty and indecent treatment of a child under 12.
Sterling Free, 26, was arrested on Monday night and charged with taking a child for immoral purposes, deprivation of liberty and indecent treatment of a child under 12.

The man accused of kidnapping girl, 7

THE 26-year-old man accused of abducting a seven-year-old girl from southeast Queensland shopping centre and molesting her has been identified.

On an extraordinary day in court, where a magistrate blocked media from being present, Sterling Free, of Morayfield, appeared charged with taking the girl from Kmart at Westfield North Lakes and driving her to nearby bushland where she was allegedly molested.

The alleged abduction, which occurred on December 8, was the subject of a widely shared Facebook post, detailing what appeared to be every parent's worst nightmare.

The details were so extraordinary that many thought the post to be a hoax.

Sterling Free, 26, was arrested on Monday night and charged with taking a child for immoral purposes, deprivation of liberty and indecent treatment of a child under 12.
Sterling Free, 26, was arrested on Monday night and charged with taking a child for immoral purposes, deprivation of liberty and indecent treatment of a child under 12.

Free, a father of twin babies, was arrested on Monday night and charged with taking a child for immoral purposes, deprivation of liberty and indecent treatment of a child under 12.

Meanwhile, a Brisbane magistrate prevented the media from being present during the hearing as Free faced the Pine Rivers Magistrates Court.

Sterling free.
Sterling free.

 

Map of alleged abduction, assault of child
Map of alleged abduction, assault of child

 

 

The matter was adjourned from yesterday after the media and public were told they could not be present in the hearing.

The Courier-Mail was yesterday denied the opportunity to fight the closed court order.

After several media organisations united and hired a lawyer to fight the closed court order, Magistrate Trevor Morgan today did not back down from his position and prohibited the media to be present for the man's court hearing.

He said the media did not have "standing" to make the application to be present in court. This is despite media lawyers previously being allowed to be present and argue against suppression and closed court orders in several other Queensland courts on a regular basis.

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Pine Rivers Courthouse where a Brisbane magistrate prevented media from attending Picture: Liam Kidston
Pine Rivers Courthouse where a Brisbane magistrate prevented media from attending Picture: Liam Kidston

 

"The media organisations have representatives in court and they seek to observe the proceedings today to provide a fair and accurate report on what occurs," media lawyer from Bartley Cohen, Michaela Manning, told the court.

She argued in a "variety of circumstances the media had been recognised as interested parties and had the right to be heard as to whether a court would be open.

 

Scene at North Lakes where a Seven year old girl was allegedly kidnapped on Saturday.
Scene at North Lakes where a Seven year old girl was allegedly kidnapped on Saturday.

 

"What puts you in a different category to a man on the street who wants to come in or a person who is a blogger and has a following of 75 million people, why can't that person come in and make submissions?" Magistrate Morgan asked.

Ms Manning argued the media "perform an important function and the matter was in the public interest".

Despite this, the court was closed to the public and The Courier-Mail was unable to view or report on the proceedings.

Mr Morgan said the court was closed because of sensitivities around the victim, secondary victims and the accused.

He said the man should be considered innocent until proven guilty and not subject "public or social media lynching".

Mr Morgan said he was aware politicians had made comments about the delay in informing the public about the incident and in his view, there was already too much information about the case in the public domain.