Richard James Horsley’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder dominated his sentencing hearing for possessing child sexual abuse images on Monday in the NSW District Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Richard James Horsley’s diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder dominated his sentencing hearing for possessing child sexual abuse images on Monday in the NSW District Court. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

Barrister’s vile secret child abuse material addiction

A barrister who compulsively viewed child sexual abuse images has argued he "lost himself in pornography" as his life unravelled and was unable to recognise the gravity of what he was doing because of his autism.

Richard James Horsley's diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder dominated his sentencing hearing on Monday in the NSW District Court.

He has pleaded guilty to possessing more than 1600 child sexual abuse images and 16 videos on three separate devices, as well as accessing such material on his iPhone X.

The retired barrister once held an office at Sydney's 8 Wentworth Chambers, but on Monday he sat behind his silk, Phillip Boulten SC, and scribbled notes as Mr Boulten asked a judge to spare his client from prison.

The court heard Horsley turned to pornography as he encountered various professional and personal catastrophes in the late 2000s.

He acknowledged an addiction to internet pornography in 2017, but did not admit it was in relation to child sexual abuse images until August 14, 2018, when he told a new psychologist, the court heard.

On that day, Mr Boulten said, Horsley changed the password on his devices to the date - "140818" - and never looked at child sexual abuse images again.

Mr Boulten said it was likely the psychologist Horsley told about his illegal online behaviour notified police, who arrived at his doorstep two weeks later.

Richard Horsley (left) turned to pornography as he encountered various professional and personal catastrophes in the late 2000s, a court has heard. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett
Richard Horsley (left) turned to pornography as he encountered various professional and personal catastrophes in the late 2000s, a court has heard. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Joel Carrett

Psychologist Gerard Webster, who estimated he has treated Horsley in 150 separate sessions, said he had gone down the "slippery slope" of beginning to access child sexual abuse images as his addiction to pornography deepened.

Mr Webster said child sexual abuse images could be a compulsive preoccupation, or "special interest" for a person with autism.

"I'm not saying he didn't get sexual gratification out of it, but that's not the primary driver," Mr Webster said.

"The majority of it was like his obsession with music."

Anthony Attwood, a professor at Griffith University, said a person with autism spectrum disorder would "know it was wrong" to look at child sexual abuse material.

But, he said, it would be significantly more difficult for them to cease the activity than it would for a person without autism, particularly if it had become a special interest for them.

Prof Attwood told the court he believed Mr Horsley's autism "significantly influenced" the fact he began to look at child sexual abuse material, the fact he continued to look at it, and the volume he accessed.

Mr Boulten argued Mr Horsley's professional and personal struggles throughout his life are "inextricably intertwined" with his autism and ADHD.

"He did not have the same emotional reaction to the images he was seeing that a person without his disability would typically have or develop," Mr Boulten said.

"Of course, he's a lawyer. He knew it was illegal in all probability. But he did not understand the significance of what he was doing."

Horsley is deeply remorseful, has seen a psychologist or psychiatrist a combined total of 200 times since 2019 and attends a support group four times a week, Mr Boulten said.

The prominent barrister asked District Court Judge Nicole Noman to give Horsley an intensive correction order to be served in the community rather than send him to prison.

He told Judge Noman that Horsley would be more likely to reoffend if he was sent to prison and stripped of his current intensive psychological and support group regimen.

"You cannot get a better regimen of treatment for this type of offending than this man is currently undertaking," he said.

"It will all go," he added, hitting the table for emphasis. "It will all go if he goes to prison."

"I'm not sure it's inevitable that the risk level would rise," Judge Noman replied.

The prosecutor, who declined to give her name, reiterated to the judge Horsley had in fact derived some sexual gratification from the images.

Horsley, dressed in black suit pants and a red and white gingham shirt, took notes through the proceedings and occasionally held his head in his hands.

His solicitor attempted to physically block a reporter from asking questions and elbowed a cameraman as he left court.

Horsley will be sentenced on February 15.

Originally published as Barrister's vile secret child porn addiction



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