Error in Colt family 'incest' case led to dropped charges
The detective leading the abuse investigation into the infamous Colt clan says it was an oversight that alibi evidence placing an accused child rapist in another state was not served until the eve of his trial.
Frank Colt (a pseudonym) officially raised the alibi in August 2018, four months after he was arrested and accused of four counts of raping a child under the age of 10 in NSW.
The Sydney District Court was told on Wednesday police made inquiries but didn't notify the 50-year-old's lawyers of the result until May 29 this year - the Friday before the scheduled start of his trial.
Detective Inspector Kirsty Hales said she was reviewing the 27-volume brief of evidence on May 29 when she noticed Colt's phone records from September 2011 to July 2012, the times of the alleged child rapes.
The document shows his handset was being used in Western Australia.
"It was an oversight that that record was not served," she told Sydney District Court on Wednesday.
"I tasked an officer to obtain some records and I was unaware she obtained the (documents).
"I noticed it and immediately notified the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions)."
Lawyers for Colt were notified the same day.
The trial did not start on June 1 and prosecutors withdrew a host of charges on June 2.
Colt faced trial this week on a single charge that he raped his 17-year-old niece Petra in 2010.
Petra, also a pseudonym, separated from the Colt family in early 2015.
She first alleged the rape during an interview with another detective in August 2018, three weeks after Colt put forward his alibi.
Det Insp Hales told the court on Wednesday she was aware of Colt's claim before Petra's interview and denied instructing the interviewer to "target" him.
On the contrary, the lead investigator into the Colts since late 2012 said they weren't expecting Petra to make an allegation about Frank Colt.
"At that stage, it was to see if she'd adopt an unsigned statement she'd given strike force detectives in 2013 and - now that she was away from family - whether she'd be willing to provide an interview," Det Insp Hales said.
During a trip to Victoria alone in 2013, she told police she had never gone to school, lived "in a cult" and that "all my aunts, uncles and cousins have all been sleeping together".
Soon after, she told NSW detectives investigating her family she was "not in the right mind" when she made the original statement and "wanted attention".
Det Insp Hales denied that amounted to a retraction, pointing to the influence Petra was under.
"I don't believe she retracted that, no," she said.
"I take that on face value."
Petra told the court on Tuesday she was walking on the family farm in southern NSW in February 2010 when Frank Colt grabbed her, threw her headfirst into the back seat of his car and raped her.
"I tried to fight him off but he wouldn't listen," the now 27-year-old said.
The Crown says other sexual assaults in the family were "not a secret".
A judge is expected to hand down her verdict on the 2010 rape charge on Monday.
The family came to international attention in 2013 after a court ordered 12 children to be put in state care.
All but one child had parents who were related or closely related.
Authorities in 2012 uncovered about 40 members of the clan living in caravans and tents on a rural property without shower or toilet facilities in NSW.
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Error in Colt case led to dropped charges