The Crime of Bestiality in New South Wales

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A 34-year-old Bangalow man stands accused of going on a seven year sexual offending spree in Byron Bay. This included having sex with at least 19 dogs. Dean Anthony Sellenthin has been charged with bestiality over the acts that involved a golden retriever and dog named “Bear”.

Sellenthin’s alleged deviant crime wave began in 2011. It further involved stealing the underwear of over a hundred women and children, as well as indecently assaulting a person with a disability. And it’s resulted in 214 charges, ranging from stalking to producing child abuse material.

Court documents don’t reveal how police ascertained that Sellenthin engaged in the act of bestiality with the various dogs, but they do make clear that a black and brown “male canine”, as well as a dark short-haired “female canine”, were involved.

The alleged offending also includes an incident where Sellenthin is said to have entered a dwelling so he could record people in private. It all came to a head in 2017, when police arrested Sellenthin. And he’s been held on remand ever since.

At a 17 April hearing at Tweed Heads Local Court – that Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy had excused Sellenthin from attending – it was heard that the prosecution is considering a plea deal that was submitted by the accused’s solicitor. The matter has been adjourned until June.

The crime in NSW

Section 79 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) makes it an offence for a person to engage in sexual acts with an animal in this state. And for every count of this crime against his name, Mr Sellenthin is facing up to 14 years behind bars.

And it’s also a crime in NSW to attempt to have sex with an animal. Section 80 of the Crimes Act stipulates that a person who’s convicted of committing attempted bestiality is liable to up to 5 years imprisonment.

Sex with beasts at common law

The Crimes Act doesn’t define what constitutes an act of bestiality. But, at common law, it’s held to be any form of sexual intercourse with an animal, as set out in the 1889 Queen’s Bench Division case R versus Brown.

The 1959 UK Court of Appeal case R versus Bourne found that penetration is not essential to the act. That case involved Sydney Joseph Bourne who forced his wife, Adelaide, to have sexual intercourse with a dog against her will.

Mr Bourne was convicted of aiding and abetting his wife to commit the act of buggery with a dog. The offender argued that he couldn’t be convicted for assisting someone in a criminal act in circumstances where they weren’t guilty of the offence. But, his defence fell through.

The 1952 Victorian Supreme Court case R versus Packer found that indeed, a woman is capable of committing an act of bestiality. While the UK Criminal Court of Appeal made clear in 1984’s R versus Higson that it’s the offender who needs help, not the dog.

Colonial bestiality

The 1799 NSW Court of Criminal Jurisdiction case R versus Reece is an early example of the offence of bestiality being perpetrated and tried in the initial days of Britain carrying out its colonisation program in the local region.

At around 8 am on 19 January 1799, Raymond Tierney came across James Reece lying in a swine stye at Captain Townson’s farm with Patrick Brannagham’s pig. Reece was to the rear of the sow and was engaged in the act of sex with the animal.

Tierney called over his companion, Dennis Newnham, to take a look at the “extraordinary” spectacle. Tierney further testified he saw “the prisoner withdraw his private parts from out of the body of the said sow and that his semen or nature flew from him upon the hinder parts of said sow”.

At this point, Tierney jumped over the fence and seized Reece, before he “had time to button up his affairs”. Newnham also entered and inspected the private parts of both the man and the beast, confirming penetration had occurred. The offender was taken to Sydney and placed in custody.

The court found Reece guilty of the act and sentenced him to death. It also ordered that the pig and it’s eleven piglets had to be put to death. And Mr Brannagham, who found himself in these “unfortunate” circumstances, was to be considered for remuneration.

Statewide statistics

Sydney Criminal Lawyers cited NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) figures that set out the number of incidents of bestiality recorded by NSW police throughout this state over the period April 2007 to March 2016.

Over the nine year period, a total of 68 reported bestiality cases were recorded across NSW. Twenty five of these occurred in the Greater Sydney region, while the remaining 43 happened in regional areas. The 12 months ending in March 2016 saw the highest level of incidents with 19 recorded.

Backlash in the Sunshine state

Meanwhile, north of the border in Queensland, community outrage was sparked back in April 2013, when Foxtel put an advertisement for the British television series Black Mirror on a billboard that depicted a man having sex with a pig.

Foxtel general manager Chris Keely said while the station was trying to be provocative, “it certainly did not intend to upset anyone”. He apologised for any offence that had been caused and said the station would replace the sign that night.

However, as far as Australian Christian Lobby member Wendy Davis was concerned, it was too late, as the damage had already been done. Her “stomach actually turned” when she saw the sign. And, of course, children had been confronted by “adult concepts that are not even normal”.

In plain sight

As for Mr Sellenthin, he’ll be appearing in court via video link on 19 June, when it’s thought the matter could be resolved. But, while most in the community would consider his behaviour abhorrent, the BOCSAR statistics suggest Sellenthin is not the only local to engage in such conduct.

Around 1 pm on 9 August 2015, a man cycled up to two women walking their dogs on the Canal Walkway in Greystanes. The man got off his bike, exposed himself, turned and assaulted one of the dogs. The women ran as he turned and began to attack the other dog.

The man was spotted by officers on Bilpin Street the following day, but managed to avoid police despite the helicopter and dog squad being deployed. But, the alleged offender was subsequently caught and charged with bestiality and committing an act of indecency.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.
Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim

Ugur Nedim is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist with 25 years of experience as a Criminal Defence Lawyer. He is the Principal of Sydney Criminal Lawyers®.

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