'I can now look to a future without Paul Peters' name being linked to mine'

IT WAS the first time Madeleine Pulver had come face to face with her tormentor since that quiet August afternoon when he strapped a metal box to her neck with a bike lock and said: "Count to two hundred . . . if you move I can see you."

Having walked bravely into the Downing Centre District Court arm in arm with her family, the Sydney teenager suddenly found herself just metres away from the banker-turned extortionist, Paul Douglas Peters.

As Peters, red-faced and sporting a light-grey suit, was sentenced over the bizarre hoax collar bomb attack that made headlines around the world, he cast a couple of quick glances in the direction of his teenage victim.

Only those closest to the two protagonists will know whether their eyes met across the courtroom as Peters was sentenced to at least 10 years' jail.

"I can now look to a future without Paul Peters' name being linked to mine," she said after facing the 52-year-old for the last time.

"For me it was never about the sentencing but to know that he will not reoffend, and it was good to hear the judge acknowledge the trauma he has put my family and me through."

Having declared on the way into court that she was "happy it's nearly all over", Ms Pulver seemed shaken by his presence in the courtroom. The teenager looked at the floor as Judge Peter Zahra recalled how Peters, a former Scots College student and failed international financier, had pulled on a rainbow balaclava, grabbed a black baseball bat and walked into the Pulver family's home in Burrawong Avenue, Mosman.

"The victim was vulnerable," Judge Zahra said. "She was on her own studying for her trial Higher School Certificate examinations. She was entitled to the sanctuary of her home."

He said the teenager had experienced "unimaginable" terror as Peters put a black metal box around her neck along with a note designed to strike fear into its reader's heart.

"Powerful new technology plastic explosives are located inside the small black combination case delivered to you," the note read.

"You will be provided with detailed Remittance Instructions to transfer a Defined Sum once you acknowledge and confirm receipt of this message.’’

Peters remained expressionless as the details of his crime were read out, staring straight ahead at the jury box.

Judge Zahra  rejected his claim that the hoax  was the result of a bizarre delusion brought on by a combination of bipolar disorder, heavy drinking and depression.

During the course of three sentencing hearings, Peters’ lawyers had argued that he had committed the crime under the delusion that he was the central character in a science fiction novel he was writing.

Peters had told psychologists that he had deliberately planned the crime poorly to ensure he was caught and  given help.

But Judge Zahra gave this explanation short shrift, finding that Peters’ version of events was designed to ‘‘distort his true intentions in detaining the victim’’, which was exploiting her fear for financial gain.

‘‘I am not prepared to accept that the offending was the product of a psychotic state or the consequence of the offender assuming a character in his book,’’ he said.

‘‘At the time of placing the device he had prepared around the neck of the victim he would have appreciated the enormity of what he was doing and the terrible effect and consequence of his conduct upon the victim. He proceeded regardless.’’

Judge Zahra said  the crime fell into the most serious category of the offence of detaining for advantage, and thus required a sentence significantly above the standard sentence of five years’ jail.

The Pulvers seemed to be in a momentary state of shock when the 13-year  maximum sentence was handed down.

A few minutes later, with the enormity of the event  seeping in, Bill Pulver broke into tears, being comforted by his daughter, who was also crying.

Madeleine Pulver then faced  the media.

‘‘I realise it’s going to take quite some time to come to terms with what happened but today was important because now the legal process is over,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s been a surprise to me that this year has been much harder than last year but I’m lucky enough to have family and friends and we are all making great progress.’’

Heroes and a villain

■ Peters claimed he had written a ''Hong Kong historical novel'' about a character named John Chan, who was kicked out of his house and lost his job.

■ He told psychiatrists he increasingly felt like Chan and he started thinking of a ''dual revenge, one for John and one for me''.

■ He planned to write a sequel about two half-brothers trying to get at each other. In this novel, one of the half-brothers strapped a device to a person intending to leave evidence to incriminate the other half-brother. Once incriminated, the other half-brother would be out of the picture and the offending half-brother would take his position.

■ He said he spent time in Mosman to ''live scenes in the book'' and while wandering around met the ''half-brother'', a Queens Counsel he knew from his time in Hong Kong. This man lived next door to the Pulvers. The characters had ''become alive''.

■ He also said he planned to get caught - ''to trap myself'' - so that he could get mental health treatment.

■ The sentencing judge found no evidence that Peters assumed the identity of a character in his novels.

This story 'I can now look to a future without Paul Peters' name being linked to mine' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.