Circus school looked like a haven from outside, but hid alleged depraved abuse
Warning: This story contains content some readers may find disturbing
From the outside, the Australian circus school appeared to be a haven.
At the end of a quiet, tree-lined road in the Blue Mountains, it offered classes to children with and without disabilities, advertising itself as an all-abilities circus. Employees posed for photos in bright makeup, sequins, wigs and feathers, with one saying she had found her calling.
But behind closed doors, seven people linked to the school allegedly abused three young boys over a period of two years.
The boys were allegedly subjected to sexual abuse, kidnapping, intimidation and assault from 2014 to 2016, made to abuse each other and forced to appear in child abuse material filmed by adults on their mobile phones.
One of the boys was allegedly abused from the age of three, while for another the alleged abuse started when he was seven. All of the boys were under the age of eight.
The allegations were revealed on February 5 when detectives from the NSW Child Abuse Squad - who had been investigating the allegations for months - arrested seven people and laid a total of 127 charges against them.
At a home in the Blue Mountains town of Katoomba, Therese Ann Cook, 58, her brother Paul Christopher Cook, 52, and 23-year-old Clarissa Meredith were taken into custody by detectives, while 29-year-old Yyani Cook-Williams was arrested at Canterbury, in Sydney's southwest.
A 17-year-old girl, an 18-year-old man and a 20-year-old woman, who cannot be named as they were juveniles at the time, were also taken into custody.
Court documents tendered to Penrith Local Court, in western Sydney, detail the disturbing allegations against the four adults.
Therese Cook faces 43 charges, the most of all of those arrested, while the 18-year-old boy was charged with 42 offences.
It is alleged Cook detained, raped, assaulted and intimidated a 7-year-old boy, including on one occasion when two other people were present.
She is also accused of kidnapping, common assault, sexual intercourse with a child under 10, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and producing child abuse material.
It is alleged Cook and Yyani Cook-Williams repeatedly raped a 3-year-old boy, after detaining and assaulting him.
Paul Cook is accused of making child abuse material by filming the aggravated sexual assaults, as well as being in the room while other assaults unfolded.
Meredith is accused of raping one of the boys seven times, detaining him to obtain gratification, assaulting him, and threatening him so he feared "physical or mental harm".
All four have denied the charges against them.
The identities of the group were initially concealed, but that order was lifted in Penrith Local Court on Thursday when Magistrate Stephen Corry decided in favour of five media organisations and lifted the suppression order.
The four plan to apply for bail next week, however, the offences are of such a serious nature they will remain behind bars unless they can prove their detention is not justified.
In court on Tuesday, lawyer Bryan Wrench said there was more to the story than police and the media had portrayed.
"They simply say 'we didn't do this and there is another side to this story'," Wrench said.
He said the four adults had never been in custody before and intended to apply for bail on February 16.
The 17-year-old girl, 18-year-old man and 20-year-old woman appeared at a children's court on Tuesday where they did not apply for bail on charges including aggravated kidnapping, sexual intercourse with a child under 10, and aggravated sexual assault.
They will return to court in March.
- Sydney Morning Herald