A celebrated pianist accused of sexually abusing a girl over four years from the time she was 14 says their ‘relationship’ was always consensual.
Jeremy So has been charged with 18 sex offences which allegedly took place when he was studying at Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music.
His barrister, Phillip Boulten SC, told Central Local Court on Thursday everything that happened between his client and the underage girl was consensual.
‘There was no doubt there was a relationship between them,’ Mr Boulten said.
‘When they first met he was still either 16 or 17 and when most of the offences are said to have occurred he was still a very young person.
‘It became clear to everybody that knew them, including both sets of parents… there was a real affection shown by both of them to each other.’
Piano virtuoso Jeremy So has been charged with grooming and sexually abusing a teenage music student at Sydney’s Conservatorium High School. The 30-year-old (pictured) says the relationship was always consensual
So’s barrister Phillip Boulten said his client had been in a loving relationship with the girl he is accused of assaulting. ‘It became clear to everybody that knew them, including both sets of parents… there was a real affection shown by both of them to each other,’ he said. So’s parents are pictured at court
Jeremy So is charged with 18 child sex offences which allegedly took place between 2009 and 2013 when he was studying at the renowned Sydney Conservatorium of Music (pictured)
So began using Facebook Messenger to ‘manipulate and control’ the girl when she was just 13, a court has previously heard.
His alleged victim was a student at Conservatorium High School, which is next door to the Conservatorium of Music.
Police allege the award-winning virtuoso first sexually assaulted the girl when she was 14 and he was 18.
The now 30-year-old has been in custody since his arrest last month and appeared on Thursday for a bail application via audio-visual link wearing prison greens and spectacles.
He sat upright with his hands clasped on the table in front of him before slumping and bowing his head late in the hearing. His parents sat at the back of the court.
Mr Boulten, instructed by solicitor Bryan Wrench, said So was suffering from depression in jail and his incarceration was causing him ‘great grief’.
The court heard So feared being raped or bashed behind bars where he was kept in his cell almost 24 hours a day and was nonetheless subject to bullying.
He had only one pair of socks and underwear and was forced to use his hands to eat meals because he was not allowed cutlery.
Jeremy So’s alleged victim was a student at Conservatorium High School, which is next door to the University of Sydney’s music school. The 30-year-old pianist is pictured
Court documents allege So first contacted the alleged victim via Facebook when he was at the selective Conservatorium High School. Their first face-to-face meeting allegedly took place after So graduated to the University Conservatorium of Music next door
Mr Boulten said most of the charges So faced, including sexual and indecent assault, would be hard to prove due to relevant laws.
‘These are all charges that require proof of lack of consent and knowledge of lack of consent,’ Mr Boulten said.
‘They relate to a period when [the alleged victim] was under 16 but that does not mitigate the need to prove lack of consent.’
Mr Boulten said the case ‘may well boil down to an appropriate set of charges’ that dealt with a relationship between a man aged 18 to 20 with a girl aged 14 to 16.
‘At all relevant times every single part of their relationship was consensual,’ Mr Boulten said.
Mr Boulten said it was a relationship ‘completely understood by the complainant and her family, that was completely understood by the accused and his family.’
‘They were still together when the complainant was in her 20s.’
Police allege the sex that is the subject of the charges was not consensual but a prosecutor said it was irrelevant if the pair was in a relationship.
‘People in a relationship can be subject to non-consensual sex,’ he said. ‘Even consensual sex with a person in that age bracket is a serious offence.’
Police allege So directed the teen to perform sex acts at his apartment, as well as her home and inside the practice rooms of the Conservatorium High School. Students at the high school use the Conservatorium’s Verbrugghen Hall (pictured)
Mr Boulten said his client’s maturity level was lower than would be expected for his age when he was in a relationship with the girl.
He said it was not a case of the girl being raped over a number of years and the charges would be ‘hotly contested’.
‘We will demonstrate she was in fact in a loving, caring relationship,’ Mr Boulten said. ‘We say these charges are wrong and they’re not likely to be sustained.’
The alleged offences occurred between 2009 and 2013 and the complainant came forward to police in the past six months.
So has performed at the Sydney Opera House and international music venues
A police document tendered at an earlier appearance stated So’s alleged victim only felt safe to report her claims against him after she had left the music industry.
The statement of facts allege So first contacted the girl on Facebook when he was at the selective Conservatorium High School.
‘This was the beginning of a manipulating and controlling relationship [in which the pair spent] long hours talking on MSN Messenger,’ the statement said.
The pair’s first face-to-face meeting allegedly took place after So graduated to the University of Sydney’s music school.
The relationship then allegedly continued after So took up a job with the Conservatorium High School where he tutored piano and chamber music.
So, who is a keen computer gamer when not performing or practising piano, is alleged to have urged the girl to ‘keep the relationship secret’ in their messages.
He is also accused of controlling aspects of the girl’s life, including having disputes about her wearing a bikini. So allegedly described their relationship as ‘raunchy’.
When the girl turned 15, So allegedly warned her in a message, ‘I can get arrested for everything we’ve done so far… I think it’s a decade in prison.’
The statement of facts allege So first contacted the girl on Facebook when he was in Year 12 at the selective Conservatorium High School. Stock image
He allegedly also sent her a legal definition of sexual abuse of a child, adding, ‘You’re almost 16’. The girl allegedly responded: ‘Almost isn’t the same as being.’
Among the charges are seven counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child under 16 and one count of aggravated sexual assault causing actual bodily harm.
He is also charged with three counts of indecent assault as well as procuring a child under 14 for unlawful sexual activity and inciting a child under 16 to commit an act of indecency.
Police allege So directed the teen to perform sex acts at his apartment, her home and inside the practice rooms of the Conservatorium High School when she was aged 14 to 16.
So has performed at the Sydney Opera House and other prominent venues where he has competed in international piano competitions.
He was arrested at his home in western Sydney on March 26 when a search warrant was executed and his electronic devices were seized for forensic examination.
Jeremy So has been charged with 18 child sex offences which allegedly took place between 2009 to 2013 when he was studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music (pictured)
Hong Kong-born So graduated from the Conservatorium with first class honours before undertaking degrees at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester.
Detectives from the Sydney City police area command established Strike Force Millard in February to investigate his alleged victim’s claims.
Magistrate Margaret Quinn noted there was only one complainant and So was no longer in contact with her.
She granted bail on conditions including that So’s parents provide a $350,000 surety and their son live in their home.
So must surrender his Hong Kong passport, abide by a 9pm to 6am curfew and report every day to the nearest police station.
He will appear at the Downing Centre Local Court next month.
Business News Governmental News Finance News