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School loiterer ignites Sydney defamation case

The Catholic Education Office in the Archdiocese of Sydney is being sued for defamation after releasing a detailed description of a man allegedly seen loitering outside schools and trying to entice children to leave with him.

Michael Gilbert has taken action in the NSW Supreme Court seeking damages, saying he was unjustifiably branded a child molester in a CEO letter. Justice Levine said a fair reading of the letter - distributed in the Kirrawee/Gymea area last May - could be that it was "alarming and alarmist".

Under the heading "for urgent attention of the principal, staff and school community", it described a caucasian man, aged 35 to 40, 5'7" 169.5cm tall, of medium build, with tanned skin, dark brown dreadlocked hair and a goatee beard. He wore a yellow jacket and drove black Lexus sedan. Mr Gilbert maintains that people who read the letter could have believed it was him.

The president of the federation of parents and citizens associations, Bev Baker, while not commenting on the case, said schools had a duty to protect children in their care. "All the school has done is say 'be warned, take care'," she said.

Details of the CEO letter have emerged in a Supreme Court judgement which repeated its contents in full.

Last week, the CEO unsuccessfully asked the Supreme Court to rule that the letter did not accuse Mr Gilbert as he claims. The case continues.

A CEO spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment.

CEO Sydney


27 Mar 2002