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Why vet blames Army for child abuse act

Ex-army soldier Luke Pickering pleaded guilty to accessing and transmitting child abuse material. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Brenton Edwards

Service in Afghanistan left an army veteran with a lifetime of PTSD, depression and desensitisation, but that isn’t enough to prevent a lengthy prison sentence for his child abuse material crimes, a court has heard.

On Tuesday, ex-soldier Luke Michael Pickering faced the South Australian District Court charged with the possession, and transmission of more than 900 child exploitation files.

Pickering, 32, pleaded guilty to one count of possession, three counts of accessing and four counts of transmitting child abuse material in June 2021 after being arrested by the Joint Anti Child Exploitation Team (JACET) a year prior.

During sentencing submissions, prosecutor Ahura Kalali questioned Pickering’s claims that treatment for his underlying mental health issues would prevent him from further offending of a similar nature.

Luke Michael Pickering pleaded guilty to charges of possessing, accessing and transmitting child exploitation material. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Brenton Edwards

Mr Kalali expressed concerns over prior submissions made by defence counsel that if it weren’t for Pickering’s traumatic experiences “both during and outside his military service”, it was unlikely he would have engaged in the offending.

“We say that the mental health condition explains the circumstances surrounding his offending and it’s no higher than that.” Mr Kalali said.

He acknowledged various therapists had determined Pickering suffered with mental health issues as a result of his service in Afghanistan but wasn’t satisfied that it excused him from receiving therapy for his sexual attraction to children.

“We say that there’s no evidence before Your Honour that he’s attended any sexual behaviour clinic, so perhaps that can be explained by my learned friend,” Mr Kalali said.

“Mr Pickering, in downloading and possessing the material, also transmitted the material, and we say that takes him to another level.

“A sentence of imprisonment with a substantial portion of the sentence to be served immediately in prison is the only appropriate penalty.”

The court was previously told that Pickering had been trained to become “desensitised” to “horrific and disgusting images” to serve in Afghanistan and the exposure to such images had left him a “broken man”.

Marie Shaw KC, for Pickering, on Tuesday said treatment for his underlying mental health issues, including alcoholism, should be enough to ensure he didn’t reoffend, and his actions were a direct result of his conditions.

Pickering told the court he had a low risk of reoffending because he was being treated for underlying problems. Picture: NCA NewsWire / Brenton Edwards

She said, according to a therapist seen by her client, Pickering had “largely recovered from those three disorders (PTSD, depression and alcoholism) and that the three disorders had contributed to his offending”.

Judge Joanne Tracey adjourned the submissions to allow Ms Shaw time to prepare another report after Mr Kalali expressed further concerns about Pickering’s lack of treatment for sexual desires.

Pickering will return to court later this month.