An Australian has been sentenced to 18 years in jail for infecting others with HIV. It was the first such prosecution in state of Victoria.
Michael John Neal, 50, who was diagnosed HIV positive in 2000, was motivated to infect others with the virus to create a larger pool of sexual partners with whom he could have unprotected sex, County Court judge David Parsons said yesterday.
Neal pursued his "deviant sexual practices" despite a series of warnings from Victoria's Health Department over five years that he practise safe sex.
He told a psychiatrist in 2004 there was a dark side to him that enjoyed infecting people with HIV, and his sex life was none of the Health Department's business.
He continued to have unprotected sex despite the department serving him with three letters and four orders under the Health Act between November 2001 and April 2006.
Judge Parsons said Neal continued offending until his arrest in 2006 and had made no effort since to grapple with his "aberrant sexual proclivities", particularly with relation to child pornography.
He met his victims on the internet or at gay beats or sex venues, and either denied or failed to disclose his HIV status.
The case highlighted the State Government's approach to monitoring and containing the spread of HIV and ultimately led to the sacking of Victoria's chief health officer, Dr Robert Hall.
Then health minister Bronwyn Pike stood down Dr Hall after it emerged he had not acted despite knowing Neal posed a serious risk to public health, and had ignored advice from an expert advisory panel.
Restrictions the Health Department had placed on Neal's movements were relaxed after he wrote to the chief health officer, Robert Hall, in 2005 telling him that his viral loads were undetectable and he was not able to pass on HIV.
Neal did not show any remorse either and failed to apologise to his victims for the great hurt he had inflicted upon them, the judge said.
He said Neal needed to accept his obligation to provide "full, proper and timely notification" of his HIV status. "Until such time the community, and particularly the gay community, needs protection from you."
A jury found Neal guilty of 15 charges related to 11 victims, after a two-month trial last year. They included eight of attempting to infect a person with HIV.
Neal pleaded guilty to 11 other counts, including producing and possessing child pornography, and trafficking methylamphetamine.
Outside court, Detective Sergeant Eric Harbis, of the sexual crimes squad, said Neal had played a game of Russian roulette with his victims, whom he commended for their courage in coming forward.
Judge Parsons sentenced Neal to 18 years and nine months' jail, and ordered him to serve 13 years and nine months before being eligible for parole.