KATOOMBA, Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia - In an astonishing development, the much-vaunted sexual abuse case involving the Arcade Circus school at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, totally collapsed on Friday.
Seven people, five women and two men, three of whom who were under 18 at the time of the alleged offences were facing up to 126 charges of committing sadistic sex acts and blood rituals, and the kidnapping of three children under 10, one as young as three, and another 7, between 2014 and 2016. The family running the circus school were accused of using the children for rituals, and allegations were made their own children were encouraged to have sex with the children and to suck blood from them for rituals.
The senior members of the family were also charged with having intercourse with the 3 children concerned, one of whom, it emerged last year wrote a note to her mother saying: "Mum I'm really sorry I've been lying about the whole thing."
Yet on Friday every single charge against every accused person was dropped, with the Magistrate saying there was no evidence to support the charges.
Therese Cook, 60, her brother Paul Cook, 54, and her daughters Yyani Cook-Williams, 31, and Clarissa Meredith, 25, and three people under 18 years of charge had all pleaded not guilty to the 126 charges. They ran the Arcade Circus, a school that taught circus skills to children with and without disabilities.
Their lives in tatters after having their reputations torn to shreds, their business broken, and having spent many months in jail, the seven family members were told Friday it had all been a mistake.
"This is probably one of the greatest miscarriages of justice this state has seen," Defence lawyer Bryan Wrench of Murphy's Lawyers said outside the Penrith court.
"It was totally concocted, we are totally innocent, and it's been total vindication today," he said. "It's been a saga, it's finally over, it's been two years since they have seen their family and they will now be reunited."
The family members, as part of their bail restrictions, were prohibited from talking to each other.
Flamboyant lawyer Chris Murphy the principal of the firm also weighed in on the development.
He pointed to the possibilities of a collapse when he referred to what a judge had said when some of the accused were seeking bail.
"When a Supreme Court bail application was heard by Justice Lonergan he found the allegations "bizarre, implausible, and in some cases, are described by paediatric experts to be physically impossible." He granted bail to the two applicants and the others were released as well.
"Beautiful community loved circus school family exonerated. Separated by gaol and bail conditions. Totally innocent. Thank you to my regiment for the endless pursuit of the truth at #MurphysLawyersInc," he posted on Twitter on Friday. He added:
The Arcade Circus was an unusual school, but according to Murphy was much loved. An archived social media posting described the school as follows:
The Arcade Circus began life, in a somewhat chaotic and messy living room, in Katoomba. Furniture was pushed out of the way for circus training, spills and tumbles. Love of circus flourished and so began The Arcade Circus.
The Arade Circus has evolved to become a mixed ability community circus with a strong focus on supporting families to engage with the circus arts and enabling people of all ages and abilities to explore community circus.
The Arcade Circus acknowledges and celebrates the many diverse ways of being and creates a supportive space for people with or without family to explore the circus arts.
The Arcade Circus offers an opportunity to learn and master circus skills in an environment balanced with circus fun and discipline. The Arcade Circus invites new members to join with them on their curious circus journey.
Attention has now been diverted to New South Wales Police who brought the charges against the family.
"The NSW Police Force notes the withdrawal of all charges against seven people, including four women, two men, and a teenage girl at Penrith Local Court today," a statement from the force released later on Friday said.
"It remains the strong recommendation of the Child Abuse and Sex Crimes Squad that the matters proceed before the court and a review has been requested," the statement said.