Principal sex abuse case lag a disadvantage: Barrister

Karen Sweeney |

A gap of almost two decades between former ultra-Orthodox Jewish teacher Malka Leifer’s alleged sex crimes and her facing trial is a disadvantage to her defence, her barrister claims.

Leifer, 56, is facing 27 charges over the alleged abuse of Melbourne sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper when she was principal of the Adass Israel School between 2003 and 2007.

The mother of eight has pleaded not guilty and is on trial in the Victorian County Court.

In his closing address, Leifer’s barrister, Ian Hill KC, described the lengthy delay between the alleged offending and the trial, which began last month, as being a disadvantage to the defence and to jurors.

The sisters used the words “I don’t recall” or “I have no recollection” on more than 400 occasions in total, and more than 120 times each individually, he said.

“It’s their memories that you are being asked to accept in respect of these charges,” he said.

“This whole case depends on an acceptance of what the complainants say of the offending, beyond reasonable doubt.”

He said the delay prevented the use of an alibi and created lost opportunities to contradict evidence from the women.

School friends or teachers who must have seen one of the sisters allegedly being pulled away by Leifer on a school camp could not be called as witnesses, he said.

He also blamed police for not conducting a full and proper investigation, for loss of opportunities to obtain telephone records or text messages, and for losing documents.

Mr Hill has also been critical of the womens’ credibility as witnesses.

He rejected a claim by Ms Erlich when she told jurors that she had no one to talk to about what had allegedly happened to her.

“Yes she did. She had two sisters who she was very close to, if not three,” he said, referring to Ms Meyer, Ms Sapper and another of their sisters.

Mr Hill was also critical of evidence given by Ms Meyer about abuse continuing in Leifer’s home after she had married. 

He said that had not appeared in early police statements when she mentioned going to Leifer’s home with her husband for a meal.

He asked them to consider if it was a truthful memory why she wouldn’t have said that she went to Leifer’s home on numerous occasions and the sexual abuse continued.

“That’s something she adds later to the narrative. It’s not true,” he said.

He told jurors that in earlier hearings Ms Erlich talked about discussions with class members about who were Leifer’s favourite students.

“It was a position that all the girls in the class wanted, so there was discussion about the fact that I was one of her favourite girls,” Ms Erlich said.

Mr Hill said Ms Erlich had written things praising Leifer in years 11 or 12, and suggested she wouldn’t have done that if she was frightened, scared or “things of this nature were happening”.

His closing address is set to continue on Tuesday.