Taxi driver jailed for 10 years for rape




UPDATE: A taxi driver who raped a woman passenger less than an hour after sexually assaulting another woman in his cab has been jailed for 10 years and six months.

County Court judge Gerard Mullaly on Thursday described as "abhorrent behaviour" Robert McNeil Byrnes' assaults of the two women in the early hours of October 12, 2012, which followed two attacks on another woman in her home earlier that year.

Byrnes sexually assaulted one of the women as he drove before stopping his cab in in a Bendigo car park, putting a cap over the CCTV camera and then getting out to rape her, the court heard.

Afterwards the woman had no way of getting home, the court heard, so had to have Byrnes drive her home, but during that trip feared she would be taken to an isolated spot and killed.

"The terror of what happened to Jill Meagher just weeks before was uppermost in her mind," judge Mullaly said.

Less than an hour before the rape, the court was told, Byrnes sexually assaulted another woman as she sat in the front seat of his taxi.

After the attacks, Byrnes gave his details to both women and told them to call if they ever needed a taxi again, the court was told.

Earlier in 2012, between January and April, Byrnes visited the home of a woman who was a friend of his wife's and sexually assaulted her while massaging her shoulders. He then assaulted her a second time after following her into a bedroom when she moved away.

Byrnes again went to the woman's Bendigo home on May 30, 2012, and found she had just taken a shower. He forced her against the wall and sexually assaulted her, the court heard.

On both occasions the woman persuaded Byrnes to leave by telling him he had been recorded on CCTV cameras inside the house.

Byrnes, of Bendigo, was in March found guilty by a jury of two charges of rape and two counts of indecent assault related to the attack on his second passenger.

He then pleaded guilty to a further five counts of indecent assault, related to the incidents involving the other two women.

Judge Mullaly said Byrnes had shown "little concern and autonomy for the women you sexually assaulted".

"You put your own perverse way of thinking well above the simple basic decency of these women," he said.

"Women and the whole community are entitled to believe taxi is a safe way to negotiate nighttime travel, especially when there are no other alternatives in regional towns.

"Your breach of that trust means women and the community are left fearing what should be a sanctity on a late night out is not that at all."

The court was told the woman attacked at home felt guilt for not reporting the incidents earlier, and thought had she done so the assaults on the two passengers could have been prevented.

But judge Mullaly said that woman should not feel guilt as Byrnes "alone was responsible for the attacks and for the effects on the victims".

The court was told the assaults had had a major impact on the women's lives, as they had experienced depression, increased anxiety, a fear of social settings and were less trusting of people.

Judge Mullaly said he did not accept a defence submission made on Byrnes' behalf that the 46-year-old had an inability to empathise and read social cues.

The judge said Byrnes would have been well aware the three women were not consenting to his advances.

Byrnes, a father of three children and a stepfather of two, cried during his sentencing hearing and grimaced as he was sentenced to a non-parole period of eight years.

He has served 203 days in pre-sentence custody and will have his name put on the sex offenders registry for life.

EARLIER: A BENDIGO taxi driver has been sentenced to 10 years and six months, with a non-parole period of eight years, for raping a female passenger and assaulting two other women.

Robert McNeil Byrnes, 46, was in March found guilty by a jury of two charges of rape and two counts of indecent assault related to an attack on a woman in his taxi in Bendigo in the early hours of October 21, 2012.

Byrnes, of Bendigo, then pleaded guilty to a further five counts of indecent assault, related to incidents involving another two women, one of them a taxi passenger and the other a friend of his wife's, who he twice sexually assaulted when he visited the woman's home.

Prosecutor Neill Hutton said Byrnes had sexually assaulted a young woman who sat in the front seat of his taxi also on October 21, 2012.

The assault happened less than an hour before he picked up the passenger who he later raped.

Mr Hutton said that earlier that year, on a day between January and April, Byrnes visited the home of a woman he knew and sexually assaulted her while massaging her shoulders. He then assaulted her a second time after following her into a bedroom when she moved away.

Mr Hutton said on May 30, 2012, Byrnes again visited the woman's home to find she had just taken a shower. He forced her against the wall and sexually assaulted her, the court heard.

The woman persuaded Byrnes to leave when she convinced her attacker there were CCTV cameras inside her house and that she would show the footage to his wife, Mr Hutton said.

Judge Gerard Mullaly indicated to Byrnes' pre-sentence hearing he would likely impose a sizeable penalty, as the community needed to be sent a message that sexual assaulting women was intolerable and abhorrent.

Judge Mullaly also said a significant penalty awaited taxi drivers who took advantage of female passengers. Byrnes' trial was told the driver pulled into a car park before getting out of his taxi and opening the back seat of his cab to rape his passenger.

Defence counsel Philip Skehan said his client came across as a "simple man" who had a low IQ and an inability to empathise or read social cues from others.

"He is not so much a predacious character, he is more of a dill," Mr Skehan said.

The court heard a psychological report into Byrnes' character was limited in its findings and had only just been prepared, despite his trial concluding more than three months ago.

Byrnes, the court heard, was a man of good character, had always worked hard and always done everything he could for his three children and two stepchildren.

His family had already experienced "denunciation" from the community since the jury reached its verdict, Mr Skehan said.

More to come.