Australian extortionist 'almost succeeded'

2012-10-31 15:00
Paul Peters. (File, AFP)

Paul Peters. (File, AFP)

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Sydney — The wealthy father of a teenager who spent a terrifying 10 hours in a Sydney mansion with a fake bomb chained around her neck revealed on Wednesday that he might not have called police if he had known his daughter was the victim of a bizarre extortion attempt.

Bill Pulver was speaking to reporters outside the New South Wales state District Court, where investment banker Paul Douglas Peters, aged 52, appeared for a sentencing hearing. Peters faces up to 20 years in prison when the hearing continues on 7 November.

Peters pleaded guilty in March in the same court to charges of aggravated breaking and entering and of committing a serious indictable offense.

He admitted to entering the family mansion wearing a ski mask and wielding a baseball bat in August 2011 before tethering the harmless devise to then-18-year-old Madeleine Pulver, who had been home alone studying for high school exams.

The teen telephoned her father after Peters left the house, unaware that a note was attached to the fake collar bomb demanding an unspecified sum of money and warning that the device would explode if tampered with.

Bill Pulver raised the alarm, sparking a 10-hour police bomb squad operation that determined the device was harmless.

Psychiatric assessments

He said on Wednesday that he might have paid a ransom had he known about the extortion demand.

"If I had known there was an extortion letter, I ask myself the question: Would I have actually rung the police?" he told reporters.

"I'm really not sure what I would have done," he added. "He very nearly got away with it."

Peters, who travelled frequently between the United States and Australia on business, fled to the US and was arrested nearly two weeks later at the Louisville, Kentucky, home of his former wife, Deborah Peters. He was extradited to Australia and has remained in prison custody since.

Two psychiatrists on Wednesday gave differing opinions on Peters' mental state at the time of the incident, which Peters has said he has no memory of.

Psychiatrist Jonathan Phillips testified that he believed Peters was in a psychotic state during the crime.

Bipolar disorder

Phillips added that Peters was one of the most difficult and complex cases he had ever assessed.

"It's unusual for a person with a long and seemingly untroubled life and record to then commit an extremely callous and dangerous act," Phillips said.

Phillips said Peters suffered from a bipolar disorder and was in an intermittent psychotic state in the weeks or months prior to the incident.

Psychiatrist Stephen Allnutt said he did not believe Peters was suffering from psychosis.

"When you look at the [police] interview ... he's a fairly intelligent man who doesn't demonstrate any symptoms of mental illness," Allnutt said.

- AP
Read more on:    australia
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