Grant Harden: Paedophile busted in Operation Arkstone wants treatment, court told

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A pedophile who “couldn’t stop” sexually abusing and filming young boys at sleepovers before he shared thousands of their images with members of an online child sex ring has made his final bid to avoid spending life behind bars.

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After pleading guilty to more than 170 child abuse charges, former junior soccer coach Grant Harden appeared in the Downing Centre District Court via video link from Long Bay jail for a final sentencing hearing on Monday.

The 31-year-old from St Clair in western Sydney faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for 26 of the offences he was charged with, including multiple counts of sexual intercourse with a child under 10 years.

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former junior soccer coach Grant Harden

Camera IconGrant Harden was arrested as part of Operation Arkstone. Facebook Credit: Supplied

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Harden targeted seven children and the court was previously told that in most cases after he sexually abused them he would upload images of the abuse for other paedophiles to view on social media applications like Snapchat and Kik.

The court was previously told Harden gave two young boys melatonin before abusing them, filming it and sharing the images with other paedophiles on social media.

In summing up Harden’s case, defence barrister Pauline David said her client suffered from a “terrible disorder” and wanted treatment.

“He has a pedophilic disorder, he has a sickness, it needs to be treated,” Ms David told the court.

“He accepts it’s not normal and he wants to be a normal man.”

Harden never sought to excuse his behaviour and was “heartbroken” over what he had done, Ms David said.

“He has answered every question … he has said sorry, he has taken every opportunity to accept responsibility for what he has done” she said.

“He has never once come before this court and suggested or asked Your Honour for sympathy or not to be punished … he has never once sought to deflect from what happened to those children.”

While Ms David was at pains to stress she was not suggesting Harden protected the children he abused, she said the court had to consider the circumstances in which the crimes were committed.

“He sought to minimise any impact upon the child, in most cases, not all,” Ms David said as she explained most of Harden’s victims were asleep or unwittingly involved.

“These were not situations where the offender blatantly and obviously and was arranging this situation without any regard.

“He was responding to his own urges … but there was some level of … protection of the children from the excesses of his behaviour.”

Ms David said Harden “couldn’t stop” and didn’t know how to get help to deal with his attraction to children.

“He has a desire to have treatment, he is prepared to take whatever treatment is necessary,” she said.

Crown prosecutor Sara Gul said while Harden had “said all the right things” the court should consider whether he was genuine.

Harden made “superficial statements of recognition” about the harm he caused and when asked about why he wouldn’t reoffend, Ms Gul said his first reason given was to avoid putting his family through another ordeal.

The effect on child victims and their families was mentioned secondly, Ms Gul told the court.

“He admitted that he still has sexual urges towards children as the matter stands for sentence,” she said.

“He still holds the belief to this day that generally child one was enjoying himself during much of the offending.

“When a very graphic video featuring the extreme sexual assault of a female baby was sent to him, he expressed that he wished in fact that the baby was a boy not a girl.”

Ms Gul reminded the court there were 3348 child abuse images found on Harden’s Samsung phone and 26 of the charges he pleaded guilty to carried life imprisonment as the maximum penalty.

“This wasn’t just material used for personal gratification,” she said.

“He went out of his way to advertise for other users to use his child abuse material and child one as a bargaining tool to receive other child abuse material.”

former junior soccer coach Grant Harden

Camera IconHe is being held at Long Bay jail. John Appleyard Credit: News Corp Australia

Harden’s desire to abuse one boy became so extreme, Ms Gul revealed he “offended” against the child in a hospital.

“This is abhorrent offending which deserves the highest appropriate level of punishment,” she said.

“All of the children had images of them sent over the internet which could remain in the hands of other people forever. All of them will grow up having no control over the fact that explicit images at best, or highly degrading child abuse material at worst, has been sent to strangers in any number of places in the world, unable to be controlled in any way.

“This will loom over their lives forever. They were violated but their violation will live on the internet for years or generations to come.

After hearing the final sentencing submissions, Judge Sarah Huggett said more time was needed to consider an appropriate sentence.

Harden is due to learn his fate in April.

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