Cleaner saw Malka Leifer at school with girls on Sundays, court hears

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mahmoud Illean/AP</span>
Photograph: Mahmoud Illean/AP

A cleaner at the Melbourne Jewish school where Malka Leifer was the principal has told a court he saw Leifer at the school on Sundays with as many as three girls.

Mario Toledo, giving evidence with the assistance of a Spanish interpreter, told the Melbourne magistrates court on Thursday he saw Leifer go to her office and classrooms that bordered it.

But, Toledo told the committal hearing, he had not been close enough to hear what was being said between the principal and the girls. “I never paid any attention,” he said.

The cleaner told the court he had also often seen another teacher at the school on Sundays. He worked at the school as a cleaner for 16 years before retiring in 2017.

Leifer, the 55-year-old former principal of the Adass Israel ultra-Orthodox Jewish girls school, is charged with 74 offences relating to the alleged sexual abuse of three sisters between 2004 and 2008.

 Related: Alleged victims of Malka Leifer give evidence in Melbourne court 

The alleged victims, Dassi Erlich, Elly Saper and Nicole Meyer, have given permission to be identified, but the court has been closed during their evidence.

Leifer moved to Israel in 2008 after the allegations surfaced. She was charged with criminal offences in 2012 but a long battle for her extradition only ended earlier this year when she returned to Melbourne.

The alleged victims of Leifer will continue giving evidence on Friday after the court agreed to not hear from Jewish witnesses on the sacred day of Yom Kippur.

One of the sisters has completed her evidence, while another started her evidence on Tuesday, continued through Wednesday and will again be in the witness box on Friday. The third sister will give her evidence after this. It is unclear which sisters have given evidence and which have not.

Leifer was also pardoned from Thursday’s proceedings because of Yom Kippur. The committal hearing allows the magistrate Johanna Metcalf to hear the evidence against Leifer before determining whether she will face trial in a higher court.

Toledo has given two statements to police about what he saw at the school but Metcalf denied a media application to view them – and the statements of the other witnesses.

The magistrate agreed with a submission from Ian Hill QC, for Leifer, that some material in the statements was irrelevant and inadmissible and its release could therefore prejudice any further proceedings. Nanette Rogers SC, for the prosecution, had also opposed the release of the statements.

Metcalf said she understood that it would mean much of Toledo’s evidence could not be contextualised and that this could impact the media’s ability to report on a matter in the public interest.

“[But] there’s also a public interest in preserving the integrity of these proceedings, which are preliminary,” she said. “In my view, it is not in the interests of justice to allow access to these statements.”

The other witnesses due to give evidence during the committal are Dr Vicki Gordon, a clinical psychologist who has described herself as a “whistleblower” in regard to the sexual abuse allegations, Esther Spiegelmen and Sharon Bromberg, who were teachers at the school at the time of the alleged abuse, and Chana Rabinowitz, a former counsellor at the school, who will give evidence from Israel.

The hearing is expected to run until early next week.

- with Australian Associated Press

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