The former principal of a suburban high school has faced court charged with persistent sexual exploitation of a child.
The former principal of a suburban high school has faced court charged with persistent sexual exploitation of a child.

Former high school principal on child sex abuse charge

Findon High School's former principal is accused of repeatedly and persistently sexually exploiting a child for more than two years, a court has heard.

Phillip Jeffrey Fitzsimons can now be named in connection with his charges, following The Advertiser's successful 18-year campaign to overturn anonymity for alleged sex offenders.

Fitzsimons, 53, of Mount Barker, faced the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Wednesday.

He has yet to plead to one count of persistent sexual exploitation of a child, which allegedly occurred between early 2016 and late 2018.

Fitzsimons is further charged with one aggravated count, and two basic counts, of possessing child exploitation material at the time of his October 2019 arrest.

Under state law, an aggravated count of that offence means the child depicted in the material was allegedly under the age of 14 years.

If convicted, Fitzsimons faces a maximum prison term of life.

A teaching website praised Fitzsimons, a year before his arrest, for “transforming” Findon High school. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Naomi Jellicoe.
A teaching website praised Fitzsimons, a year before his arrest, for “transforming” Findon High school. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Naomi Jellicoe.

In 2018, online magazine The Educator included Fitzsimons in its "Hot List" rankings of exemplary teachers from around Australia.

It praised him for having "transformed" the school "in an incredibly short period of time" by "implementing a student-empowered model of learning".

"Through this model, vulnerable young people are engaging in their learning journeys and entering into partnerships with community enterprises and organisations," it wrote.

"(This is) creating a safety net of support and belonging."

In October 2019, Fitzsimons was arrested at his home following what SA Police detectives called "an ongoing investigation".

He was charged, at the time, with aggravated indecent assault and one count of possessing child exploitation material.

At the time of Fitzsimons’ arrest, police said his alleged victim was not a student of the school. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Naomi Jellicoe.
At the time of Fitzsimons’ arrest, police said his alleged victim was not a student of the school. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Naomi Jellicoe.

Although he was arrested on a Sunday, and the Findon High community was informed the following day, the Education Department did not make the matter public for three days.

Fitzsimons was immediately suspended without pay, and the Department said his alleged victim was not a student at the school.

At the time of his arrest, Fitzsimons' identity could not be published due to legislation granting automatic anonymity to alleged sexual offenders.

That law was overturned in May.

On Wednesday, prosecutors said they were withdrawing the two charges filed against Fitzsimons at the time of his arrest and replacing them with the four new charges.

They said they would pursue those charges against Fitzsimons going forward, and asked for a 10-week adjournment to finalise their case.

Magistrate Simon Smart remanded Fitzsimons on continuing bail to face court again in September.

*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
 

Originally published as Former high school principal on child-sex charge


Training key to keeping post-COVID recovery on track

premium_icon Training key to keeping post-COVID recovery on track

Boosts to TAFE facilities in Bowen and Cannonvale will help strengthen the region’s...

Crash, fire, false alarm are all in a day’s work

premium_icon Crash, fire, false alarm are all in a day’s work

No two days have been the same for these auxiliary firefighters and now they want...

Read everything for just $1 a week for first 12 weeks

premium_icon Read everything for just $1 a week for first 12 weeks

Deal gives you access to local, regional and metro News sites