38-year old Mohammed Skaf has spent 21 years in prison after being sentenced to a maximum of 22 years and 11 months for being part of a group of more than a dozen teenagers and young men who sexually assaulted at least six teenage girls in the year 2000.
Police arrested Mr Skaf, who was just 17 years old at the time of the crimes, during a covert operation at Bondi Beach. Fourteen other men were believed to be involved in the attacks, nine of whom were ultimately convicted of sexual offences.
The sentencing judge at the time described the assaults as “degrading”, “violent” and “disgusting”, labelling Mr Skaf “a vicious cowardly bully, arrogant and a liar, as well as being a rapist”.
The judge found it “hard to believe that young men brought up in modern Australia could behave so much like wild animals”.
Parole may be granted
It was a crime that shocked the nation, and one which led to reform around sexual assault proceedings.
After one of the victims indicated she could not give evidence again at a retrial, laws were changed to allow for previous evidence from victims to be used in retrials.
Mohammed Skaf has been eligible for parole since 2018 and, provided he completes a short programme, could be released from prison in days.
The NSW Government confirmed it would not oppose a decision to free him, despite three previous parole board findings that he showed no remorse for his crimes.
Earlier this year, when it became clear that Mr Skaf would again apply for parole, State Parole Authority chairman Judge David Frearson said the “preferred pathway” for Mr Skaf to reintegrate him into society by including a period of external leave, which provides a gradual pathway of back towards liberty.
The judge also remarked that: “a sex offender who is a denier, who is an above-average risk, who has committed a very disturbing crime or crimes”, would not be approved for day release, but also that the authority had to determine the best way to reintegrate him into the community as “everybody gets out eventually”.
Covid-19 reduces the available options
But due to the Covid-19 pandemic, external leave programmes are no longer an option – they were ceased in June this year to prevent the Delta virus entering the prison system.
This means the only option left is parole.
For now, Judge Frearson has reserved his decision until Mr Skaf completes a 44-hour NSW Corrective Services program designed to teach “self-help mechanisms” that can overcome “poor self-control and impulsivity”.
Mr Skaf indicated it would be a matter of days before he completed the self-help course.
Mr Skaf’s sentence is due to expire in January 2024, so there is some pressure to determine a pathway forward for one of Australia’s most violent sexual offenders.
If the full term of his sentence were to expire, Mr Skaf could be released without any kind of monitoring.
The convicted leader of the group of men who sexually assaulted the teenage girls, Mohammad’s older brother Bilal Skaf, remains behind bars.
Regulation 214 of the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Regulation 2014 provides that the standard conditions of parole in New South Wales are:
- To be of good behaviour for the duration of the parole period;
- Not to commit any offence while on parole; and
- To adapt to normal, lawful community life
In addition to these requirements, the Parole Authority or court may impose further obligations and requirements, such as complying with drug or alcohol testing and electronic monitoring.
Regulation 215 provides that consultation is required before a court can impose conditions relating to residence or treatment.
A parolee may be prohibited from associating or communicating with particular people – often a co-accused, complainant or prosecution witnesses – or from visiting a particular place or district.
Parole conditions can be varied from time to time by the Authority, but this must be in writing.
Importantly, a person’s parole can be revoked even after the parole period has expired if it is later discovered that a breach occurred during the parole period.
The Parole Authority has a number of options when dealing with the breaches of parole.
If the breach is trivial, it may decide to take no action at all.
Alternatively, it may send a warning letter or ask a parolee to come in and explain the breach.
If a criminal charge has been brought, the Authority may not take any action until the case is finalised in court.
Under section 21A of the Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act 1991, committing an offence while on ‘conditional liberty’ is also an ‘aggravating factor’ which can make the sentence harsher.
For breaches in between, the Authority can revoke a person’s parole and issue an arrest warrant – which will result in the parolee being returned to prison.
After this, there will be a hearing to determine whether or not parole should remain revoked, which will normally occurred at least several weeks after parole was initially revoked.