The former guitarist of an indie pop band will fight accusations he sexually assaulted a teenager, claiming he accidentally made contact with the girl while swinging his arms as he walked along a crowded footpath in Melbourne’s CBD.
Christian O’Brien, formerly with the band Alpine, is alleged to have intentionally sexually touched the complainant, a girl under the age of 16, on the bottom as he passed her on the footpath on Little Bourke Street on August 2, 2019.
The musician was charged with sexual assault by Victoria Police after a public appeal for information about the incident in January last year.
Guitarist Christian O’Brien from Australian indie rock group Alpine.
During a contest mention in the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday, a 20-second clip of CCTV footage was played to Magistrate Peter Reardon, which showed Mr O’Brien walking down a busy footpath and passing the complainant.
Prosecutor acting Sergeant Steve Wood said the footage supported the victim’s claim of sexual assault.
However, Mr O’Brien’s lawyer Jonathan Brancato said the footage didn’t support the allegation and showed his client maintaining a consistent direction with his arms swinging before “accidentally” brushing the complainant.
“Even upon walking past the complainant, his face doesn’t appear to change … he simply walked past in a crowded street and in the motion of his arms swinging has brushed this young girl’s backside,” he said.
“I submit there was no sexual contact at all, just a case of being in a crowded environment.”
Mr Brancato said Mr O’Brien strenuously denied the allegations and nothing in the footage supported a sexual assault.
Acting Sergeant Wood said the prosecution believed Mr O’Brien started swinging his arms as he approached the girl.
He also said Mr O’Brien’s decision to flee the state after an appeal for information by police in January last year would be used as evidence.
Police issued a warrant for Mr O’Brien’s arrest in early January last year, stating that he had fled to Brisbane to “avoid apprehension” and was failing to engage with investigators.
Mr Brancato said his client had only fled after seeing his face in the media being portrayed as a “pot-bellied creep” and pervert.
“He was a prominent musician at the time, a well-known individual. He fled out of fear of the repercussions of his face put all over the media in that context,” he said.
When Mr O’Brien returned to Melbourne he arranged with police to participate in an interview straight away, Mr Brancato said.
He added that Mr O’Brien received “significant backlash” after court reports were published in December and he was forced to move house because he received threats.
“As a result of these allegations, ultimately he lost his record contract, the band was disbanded and he hasn’t been able to return to that industry since. His whole career was turned upside down.”
The matter will proceed to a contested hearing before a magistrate on September 30.
Mr O’Brien was the guitarist and songwriter of the ARIA-nominated alternative-pop band Alpine, which released its debut album A is for Alpine in 2012 and second album Yuck in 2015.
The other five band members released a statement through their management in December to say the band had split in 2019.
“We are deeply concerned and saddened by these allegations. Any matter of sexual assault is an extremely serious one, however, as the matter is still before the courts we are advised that we are unable to provide further comment at this time,” they said.
“Our thoughts are with those involved and hope all parties have the privacy and support required to deal with this devastating matter.
“The band disbanded in 2019 and will not be releasing music or playing shows in the future. It is very disappointing to announce this news in this way to our fans.”
The band was nominated for breakthrough artist and best video at the 2012 ARIA awards.
Mr O’Brien was raised on Phillip Island and studied classical guitar at the Melba Conservatorium of Music.
The National Sexual Assault, Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732, Victims of Crime Helpline 1800 819 817. For young people aged up to 25: Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 https://kidshelpline.com.au/
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