A Derbyshire man who drove around in a white van showing off his 11,000-strong Smurf collection to kids has been sentenced to 16 years in prison after being found guilty of raping and sexually assaulting a child.
Robin White, a 65-year-old retired truck driver, was handed a 16-year sentence and a lifetime sexual harm prevention order on six counts of rape, of inciting a child to engage in sexual activity, and of indecent assault on a child.
Now an adult, his accuser shared with the court her experience of being assaulted with a sex toy and raped in a garden shed by the van-driving pervert at a young age. Prosecutor Julia King described how the victim had been left with “severe psychological harm” over the “degrading and humiliating” experience.
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“She says she is unable to trust anyone fully and that this has had an impact on every aspect of her life,” King said, adding that the victim even stayed away from certain places lest she encounter the predator. The judge agreed, declaring White had “blighted [the victim’s] life in every way.”
White, who had pleaded not guilty to the charges, spent several years amassing his massive Smurf collection and claimed it was the largest in existence. He supposedly spent upwards of £2,000 purchasing the blue dolls at rummage sales and flea markets, and kept over 10,000 of them in his van.
The convicted pedophile would drive around to schools and nurseries, showing off his collection to lure unsuspecting kids into his van.
Derek Benson believes he is City Mission’s oldest volunteer and he is not letting the coronavirus pandemic stop him from doing what he loves.
An estimated 66 per cent of Australians stopped volunteering during the coronavirus pandemic
In Tasmania, 250,000 hours per week were lost at the height of the pandemic, draining about $5 million from the economy
Organisations are trying to get more volunteers back working
Mr Benson, 90, of Launceston, has sorted donated books in the charity’s Youngtown warehouse in northern Tasmania for the past six years.
“When I was interviewed I said ‘where are you going to put me?’ and they said ‘in the book department'”, Mr Benson said.
“I said ‘I can’t see and I can’t read or write’, and they said ‘don’t worry, we’ll give you some work to do'”.
Like many other organisations and charities across Australia, Launceston City Mission was forced to close its warehouse in March, when coronavirus restrictions were enforced.
The warehouse reopened in July and while many volunteers like Mr Benson are back, many more are not.
According to Volunteering Australia, 66 per cent of volunteers across the country stopped lending a hand during the pandemic, mainly due to stay-home orders or the cancellation of volunteer-run events.
In Tasmania alone, it’s estimated $5 million each week in economic activity was lost at the height of the pandemic because volunteers were not working.
Mr Benson volunteers two days a week — down from three before the pandemic — but said he was not worried about going to work.
“There’s nothing to be nervous about, it’s a beautiful place and lovely people that work here so nothing to be nervous for,” he said.
“I feel like I’m doing a bit of a useful job myself, rather than just sitting at home doing nothing.”
No operation ‘without our volunteers’
City Mission’s Launceston social enterprise general manager Peter Freak said at the moment “every day is a challenge”.
“We’re still down about 30 per cent from a volunteer perspective,” Mr Freak said.
“Volunteers are the heart of what we do, so without our volunteers we actually don’t have an operation.”
He estimated the Launceston City Mission was losing tens of thousands of dollars each week because its volunteer workforce was down.
Like many other charities, it has also found itself on the frontline providing food and support to more clients than ever.
“In at Morton’s Place, where we do meals during the day, there’s a big volunteer pool that we need help with,” Mr Freak said.
“We’ve got a very active campaign going at the moment, so we are very much looking for volunteers to come back and help us.”
Older volunteers ‘nervous’
Lisa Schimanski, who is the chief executive officer of Volunteering Tasmania, said 90 per cent of the state’s volunteer organisations were severely impacted by coronavirus.
“Some organisations have told us that they’ve got more volunteers than ever as that community spirit we saw so well during COVID has continued, but others are struggling to get their volunteer workforces back, particularly those that have relied on older Tasmanians,” Dr Schimanski said.
“On average, volunteers in Tasmania contribute over $4 billion to our economy every year.
“At the height of the pandemic, we saw that we were losing around 250,000 volunteer hours a week which would equate, even on a minimum wage equivalent, to about $5 million a week that we were losing out of our economy,” she said.
“Much of it is probably nervousness, particularly for older Tasmanians … we’re seeing a slow recovery, but it would still be a very strong economic impact that we are feeling.”
Dr Schimanski said state and local governments were helping recruit volunteers through strong advertising, and organisations were coming up with innovative ways to get them back on board.
Janet Death, who is the secretary of the Launceston Tramway Museum, said some volunteers at the museum had reduced their hours, while others had adapted to becoming “jack-of-all trades”.
“We have had to add more cleaners in because that is one of the things that we have to have on site now,” Ms Death said.
She believed there needed to be more education around volunteering to bring people back to it.
“A lot of people don’t actually realise that volunteering is awesome,” Ms Death said.
“It’s also really good for the younger ones to be involved in their community.”
‘It’s changed how we do things forever’
Rosemary Armstrong has been an adult literacy tutor with Libraries Tasmania for the past 18 months.
Ms Armstrong said she taught remotely via phone or email while stay-at-home orders were in place.
“We have learnt we can do it very well remotely,” Ms Armstrong said.
“It’s not a barrier, so for mums with young kids or maybe they’re the carer for a sick parent … we can do it remotely, it’s very easy.”
Libraries Tasmania literacy services co-ordinator Jess Panday said the library was looking for more volunteers, mainly due to increasing client numbers.
“We haven’t lost that many tutors, but we are gaining more clients, so people seem to be having extra time to think about literacy or numeracy needs,” Ms Panday said.
She said while face-to-face learning had resumed, remote learning would continue.
“It’s changed the way we do things forever,” Ms Panday said.
“Our services need to be accessible and one of the problems we’ve always found is when you have to work in business hours, you are actually excluding quite a number of people.
“Where as now we come to them, we come to their lounge rooms. We’re just a phone call away.”
A Central Australian tourism operator is calling on the Federal Government to buy a fleet of disused A380 Boeings aircraft housed at an Alice Springs storage facility and to limit the size of the aeroplanes allowed to service Yulara airport.
Rex Neindorf operates the Alice Springs Reptile Centre and also runs a snake-catching service for the Alice Springs region.
He said that his tourism business had been 100 per cent effected by the global pandemic.
As the Northern Territory heads into the tourism peak season, Mr Neindorf, who once sat on the board of Tourism Central Australia, is wondering how his business will survive.
“We’re going to need assistance over the summer and I’d probably say we’ll need assistance right up to about June next year, just to get us through,” he said.
Mr Neindorf is hoping that JobKeeper will be extended.
“We’ll need assistance to actually run the business, the bills and those sort of things which we won’t be able to pay at all.”
Flying in and out of Alice Springs is recognised by residents and tourism operators as being very expensive.
Sharing in prosperity
The route featured in the national Senate inquiry into regional airfares in 2018 and highlighted that it could be cheaper to drive 450 kilometres one way to the Ayers Rock Connellan Airport to access cheaper flights through budget airlines.
Mr Neindorf said that in the wake of COVID-19, the Ayers Rock Airport should be closed to the larger airlines.
“It would turn it back to an airport that could only take small planes, not large planes, so that way, all the major planes would have to fly through Alice Springs again,” he said.
According to Mr Neindorf, that would have ripple effect not only on the self drive market but also on the bus companies too.
“That way, the whole of the southern part of Northern Territory shares in the prosperity,” he said.
Another suggestion to save the tourism industry in Central Australia is for the Federal Government to purchase either Virgin’s mothballed aircraft, or the disused A380s housed at the Alice Springs Aircraft Storage facility.
“Then the Federal Government runs their own only airline again, and subsidise the cost of travel for Australians right throughout Australia,” Mr Neindorf said.
“Imagine if you had a hundred dollar seats for travel in Australia?
“We’d lose out in the short term by buying the planes, but we’d win in the long term because we’d all be traveling and we’d all be spending and we’d be moving the economy.”