NSW body modifier guilty over 'tummy tuck'

·3-min read

A medically unqualified extreme body modifier performed a dangerous, unhygienic and unlawful "tummy tuck" on a young mother, a Sydney judge has found.

Brendan Leigh Russell, 40, was on Monday found guilty of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm when slicing open the woman's abdomen in his shopping centre parlour in November 2016.

"The accused undertook what was clearly a dangerous procedure, in circumstances that were very clearly unhygienic, and convinced the recipient that it was safe," District Court Judge Helen Syme said.

The Central Coast body modifier was also found guilty of female genital mutilation after excising most of a woman's labia with a branding iron in Newcastle in January 2015.

A verdict on his third and most serious charge - the 2017 manslaughter of a regular client - is due on Tuesday.

Following Monday's verdicts, Russell was remanded in custody, leaving his heavily pregnant wife in tears.

The findings could draw a line under complex body modification in Australia after Judge Syme dismissed defence arguments that the mother had provided appropriate consent to the abdominal procedure.

The judge said the quasi-medical tummy tuck involved "little or no regard for proper, informed consent" nor any adequate aftercare instructions.

"There was no public interest in the provision of the services," Judge Syme said.

Russell cut a 20-centimetre by 6cm hole into the woman's abdomen, removed fatty tissue and skin and stitched the wound with nylon thread.

His "incompetent" use of the scalpel caused a muscle injury, extreme pain and heavy internal bleeding.

The woman required two surgeries to fix Russell's mistakes and now has a long, thin scar from hip to hip.

The trial was told Russell never sought written consent for body modification, provided few aftercare instructions, took few infection control measures and spoke of doctors not knowing "s***" .

He had no medical training but was painted by one crown witness as a smooth-talking, confident operator hellbent on convincing customers to submit to experimental procedures.

The young mother said her fears about the lack of general anaesthetic were allayed when Russell boasted of his "quite ... good reputation" and how a surgeon had remarked his application of local anaesthetic was "amazing".

The procedure came nearly two years after Russell performed the ad hoc labiaplasty, leaving that woman in long-term pain and unable to use tampons.

His lawyer Michael Mantaj had argued convicting the 40-year-old of the rarely prosecuted offence would outlaw labiaplasties conducted by cosmetic surgeons for non-health reasons.

But Judge Syme said it was "a nonsense suggestion" that other surgeons' actions made Russell's actions lawful and "factually incorrect" to suggest Russell's procedure was comparable to a legal procedure by a trained surgeon.

The maximum penalty for female genital mutilation is 21 years in prison, while intentional grievous bodily harm is 25 years.

Judge Syme said jail was "just about unavoidable".

Before his arrest in 2018, Russell had performed various piercing and body modification procedures in Newcastle and the NSW Central Coast region including metal implants, ear cutting, belly button removal and scarification.

Scarification is the etching, cutting or branding of flesh into a design that creates an ink-less tattoo-like scar.

The alleged victim of the manslaughter charge received several body modifications, including to her nipples, before paying Russell to implant a plastic snowflake in her right hand in March 2017.

The wound became infected, leading the body modifier to reopen, wash out and restitch the wound a few weeks later. She died two days after the second procedure.

The Crown alleged the woman died of sepsis and that was borne of Russell grossly breaching his duty of care, dismissing defence suggestions of death by mixed drug toxicity.

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