Westfield North Lakes shopping centre, where a seven-year-old girl was allegedly kidnapped.
Westfield North Lakes shopping centre, where a seven-year-old girl was allegedly kidnapped.

Man accused of kidnapping girl, 7, said ‘follow me’

The man accused of kidnapping of a seven-year-old girl from a shopping centre north of Brisbane allegedly approached her in the toy aisle and said "follow me".

Sterling Free, 26, is accused of luring a seven-year-old girl from her mother at Kmart, Westfield North Lakes before taking her to bushland and sexually assaulting her.

He is alleged to have returned her to the shopping centre about an hour later.

The father of twins from Morayfield has been charged with one count each of deprivation of liberty, taking a child for immoral purposes and indecent treatment of a child under 12 years.

Free appeared in briefly in the Pine Rivers Magistrates Court by videolink on Thursday but was remanded in custody.

He rested his head in his hands for the duration of the hearing.

Sterling Free, who is charged over the kidnapping of a seven-year-old girl from a North Lakes shopping centre. Picture: Facebook
Sterling Free, who is charged over the kidnapping of a seven-year-old girl from a North Lakes shopping centre. Picture: Facebook

Police will allege the man, who works as an insulation installer, took the seven-year-old girl from her mother on Saturday, December 8.

Prosecutors will allege he came across the child in the toy aisle while he was Christmas shopping and told her: "Follow me".

He is then alleged to have driven her in the passenger seat of his car to bushland in Pumicestone Passage where she was sexually assaulted.

After the assault, the little girl was driven back to North Lakes and left at a carwash near the shopping centre.

The mother of the child allegedly later saw a scratch on her back after they returned home.

Magistrate Trevor Morgan last week forced the public and media to leave the courtroom for Free's first appearance after police prosecutors applied for the court to be closed.

He cited an archaic law which gives the judiciary grounds to close the court on the grounds of "public morality".

He also ordered a non-publication order preventing the media from reporting on some aspects of the proceedings.

The Courier-Mail today tried to have the gag order lifted but Magistrate Wendy Cull refused to hear the application, citing the court was too busy because it was the last Thursday before Christmas.

Lawyers for The Courier-Mail had given notice of the application more than an hour earlier and provided the court with submissions at 8.30am.

Outside court, lawyer for Free, Shaune Irving, said the matter was before the court and it would be "improper to comment on the merits of the case".

"We are extremely sensitive toward the privacy of the young child making the complaint and the family of the young child and the distress they are undoubtedly feeling," he said.

The matter will return to court in January.