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Newcastle body modifier guilty of one charge


A self-proclaimed extreme body modifier broke the law when using a branding iron to burn off parts of a woman’s nether regions, a Sydney judge has found.

Brendan Leigh Russell, who has never held a medical qualification, was on Monday found guilty of female genital mutilation when performing a consensual procedure in a Newcastle parlour in January 2015.

His lawyer had argued convicting the 40-year-old of the rarely prosecuted offence would outlaw labiaplasties conducted by cosmetic surgeons for non-health reasons.

“If defence advocate is suggesting the procedure performed by his client is in any way comparable to a procedure performed for therapeutic purposes by a cosmetic surgeon, then this is just factually incorrect,” Sydney District Court Judge Helen Syme said.

“If he is suggesting there are qualified cosmetic surgeons who are performing procedures which are not permitted by a plain reading of (the law) and that somehow permits his client to do so, that is also – with respect – a nonsense suggestion.”

It also couldn’t be clearer that the law applied to “any person”, she said, dismissing an argument the law applies only to ritualistic procedures on girls.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of 21 years in prison.

Judge Syme, who heard Russell’s seven-week trial without a jury, is expected to deliver a verdict on Russell’s second charge – intentionally causing grievous bodily harm in 2016 – on Monday afternoon.

A verdict to manslaughter over a customer’s 2017 death is expected on Tuesday.

Before his arrest in 2018, Russell had performed various piercing and body modification procedures in Newcastle and the Central Coast region including metal implants, ear cutting, belly button removal and scarification.

Scarification is the etching, cutting or branding of flesh into a design that creates an ink-less tattoo-like scar.

Claiming at times to have a surgical “background”, Russell was painted by one crown witness as a smooth-talking, confident operator hellbent on convincing customers to submit to experimental procedures.

The alleged victim of the manslaughter charge received several body modifications, including to her nipples, before paying Russell to implant a plastic snowflake in her right hand in March 2017.

The wound became infected, leading the body modifier to reopen, wash out and re-stitch the wound a few weeks later.

She died two days after the second procedure.

The Crown alleged the woman died of sepsis and that was borne of Russell grossly breaching his duty of care.

He allegedly counselled the woman against seeking medical treatment and told her her infected hand was “just irritated”.

Russell’s lawyer, Michael Mantaj, suggested there was doubt the death was by sepsis, suggesting mixed drug toxicity was a possibility.

His client’s other charge stems from a mother’s abdominoplasty or “tummy tuck” in Russell’s Transition studio in Erina Fair shopping centre in November 2016.

The woman’s wound became infected and she has since undergone reconstructive surgery by a qualified surgeon to significantly reduce the size of the scar.

Mr Mantaj has argued the court shouldn’t get in the way of people’s freedom to receive cosmetic body modifications, even if some in the medical field think the procedures are unwise.

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