MasterChef’s Ben Ungermann has been cleared of child sex offences after police sensationally dropped the charges on Friday.
Ungermann instead was placed on a court diversion plan over single charge of common law assault and walked free from the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court without conviction.
Accompanied by mate and Perth lawyer Ben Bullock, Ungermann hobbled into court with a large leg brace on his left leg after suffering a knee injury.
The two Bens – Ben Ungermann (left) and Ben Bullock were all smiles as they walked towards the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday. They are accompanied by his barrister Abbie Roodenberg
Ben Ungermann (left) has maintained a healthy relationship with his former Masterchef mate Ben Bullock, who has represented him in court in recent weeks
Ben Ungermann (left) had been forced to attend court in Melbourne from his home state Queensland to finally put to bed the ongoing legal drama
Under the diversion plan, Ungermann did not formally plead to the charge and instead was placed on an undertaking of good behaviour and must make a $1000 donation to White Ribbon Australia.
He must also provide a letter of apology to his young victim and see a doctor to treat a mental health condition.
Under Victorian law, diversion plans are often handed down to first-time offenders and are designed not to impact on a person’s life going forward.
The hearing brings to a close the ugly proceedings that have dragged on for more than a year.
Ungermann’s victim tuned into the hearing from Queensland to watch the hearing via video link.
The court heard Ungermann was aged 35 and staying at Quay West apartments in the Docklands with his then fiance Leigh-Anne Williams with other contestants when he had an argument with her.
So heated was the argument the pair split on the spot and she returned immediately to South Africa.
The court heard Ungermann declared he was going to get ‘s**t faced’ and proceeded to get blotto.
It was then when an unwanted hug by Ungermann on a teenager known to him got him into hot-water.
The court heard Ungermann had grabbed the young girl’s hand against her wishes, which instigated the assault charge.
His young victim called police and Ungermann was arrested the following day.
The young victim had asked the court that she be allowed to read aloud a statement to the court outlining her ordeal.
But Magistrate Mia Stylianou refused the application as it still contained references to the now uncharged sexual assault allegations.
The magistrate said a victim could not provide such a statement when no formal plea of guilt had been made.
‘What I’m reading here is inconsistent with what you have asked me to make a determination on,’ Ms Stylianou further told the police prosecutor.
The court heard while Ungermann accepted he carried out the offending behaviour alleged in the assault charge, the court did not recognise it as a guilty plea.
Daily Mail Australia revealed in May last year that Ungermann faced three separate charges of sexually assaulting his alleged teenage victim.
He had been charged by Victorian sexual crime squad detectives after a report was made alleging he had sexually assaulted a teenage girl on February 23 in Melbourne.
Ungermann had been in Victoria filming in Melbourne for the MasterChef: Back to Win program, which he was quickly dumped from.
Court documents stated police alleged Ungermann intentionally touched his alleged child victim without her consent – and he knew it – at least three times.
Ben Ungermann (left) enters the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court with mate and former MasterChef contestant Ben Bullock, who has previously represented Ungermann in court
Ben Ungermann faces multiple sex assault charges in Melbourne after he was arrested in Docklands in February last year
Ben Ungermann was quietly removed from MasterChef last year
On Friday, Ungermann’s barrister Abbie Roodenberg said his client had never intended to assault his young victim and had always had innocent intentions.
‘Two tactical police arrived at his door to affect the arrest – it was an incredibly shocking experience for him,’ she said.
Ungermann spent four hours in the lock-up without knowing who had made the accusations against him.
During his ordeal, police told him they were ‘putting him on ice,’ the court heard.
Ms Roodenberg claimed her client had received additional punishment at the hands of police in the way he was treated upon his arrest.
She further stated the media attention he had received since the charges became public had also significantly added to his pain.
The court heard Ungermann had hardly worked since he was charged and he had been forced to rely on the help of his family to survive.
In pleading his case, Ms Roodenberg outlined the hardships her client had endured during his original 2017 stint on MasterChef, including being locked away for close to a year without his phone or wallet.
She told the court Ungermann had an hour to leave the set last year upon word getting out he had been arrested and he was immediately dumped by all of his sponsors.
It was further revealed the fitness guru has suffered two previous heart attacks – one before and one after he was charged with the sex offences.
‘I’m instructed they are stress induced on both occasions,’ Ms Roodenberg said.
Ben Ungermann at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Friday
Former MasterChef contestant Ben Ungermann makes regular Instagram posts
Perth based lawyer turned chef Ben Bullock appeared alongside Ungermann in the 2017 season of Masterchef and has now represented him in court
Ungermann has 97,000 followers on Instagram, where he continues to post videos and photos. He appeared on crutches in a post three weeks ago
The court heard Ungermann hopes to rebuild his reputation and obtain work abroad again as a celebrity chef.
‘This has a great deal of sadness attached to it,’ Ms Stylianou said.
At an earlier hearing, Ms Roodenberg claimed her client had become embroiled in a police stitch-up that saw detectives campaign to convict him on the child sex offences.
Ungermann is expected to address the media upon exiting the court.
Ms Roodenberg had attempted to have the entire police tossed out earlier this week, but Ms Stylianou refused.
In dramatic developments, the court heard allegations police had coached his alleged victim and shared evidence provided by another prosecution witness to her before taking additional statements.
Ungermann denied the allegations from day one and swore to clear his name and damaged reputation.
He has since endured a year from hell as the matters have dragged through the Victorian justice system, which has grossly lagged behind amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The former MasterChef star has continued to post regularly to Instagram where he enjoys a loyal followings of close to 100,000 fans.
Just last week he posted a video of himself and young nephew eating an ice-cream outside his Queensland ice-cream shop Ungermann Brothers.
Ungermann had been known as the ‘Ice-Cream’ gig during his 2017 stint on the show, in which he was runner-up.
On Monday, Ms Roodenberg argued the contested hearing ought not proceed as the alleged victim’s evidence had been ‘contaminated and infected’ by detectives.
She further claimed the alleged victim had destroyed evidence.
Ms Roodenburg lashed out at police, slamming both Queensland and Victoria Police for failing to disclose information and accusing them of an ‘abuse of process’.
The court had previously heard Ungermann’s alleged victim had told police the MasterChef star had ‘always’ hurt her and her family.
Ben Ungermann was quietly removed from a special series of MasterChef last year.
Ben Ungermann’s barrister claimed her client had become a victim of an ‘abuse of process’ and called for all charges to be withdrawn
‘I don’t want him to get away with it,’ she told detectives in Queensland.
The revelations were contained in hand written notes by a detective, which until only recently been withheld from Ungermann’s legal team.
‘The notes … at the very least indicate the complainant was given the details of (a witness’s statement), if not shown it … and asked to explain the discrepancies between hers and his,’ Ms Roodenburg said.
The court heard the child victim could not explain the discrepancies and the detective’s notes made reference to a possible ‘roid or road’ rage by Ungermann.
Ms Roodenburg previously said the abuse of process had gone ‘well beyond’ the more common blunders often made by detectives.
‘Her evidence has been inherently infected,’ she said.
‘In totality, the way that police have investigated this matter now leads me to the point where I can’t see my client being able to have a fair trial.’
A frustrated Ms Stylianou said she had seen ‘a lot’ of things done wrong by police in similar cases and permanent stay applications had still failed.
‘It’s unfortunate. It’s wrong … I don’t know how or why the police don’t have further training or what it is, but sometimes these sorts of matters end up not assisting the prosecution case,’ she said.
Ms Roodenburg told the court the main instigator had been a detective from a dedicated sex crimes unit.
‘In my submission it is apparent that there is some gross unfairness to my client on the materials,’ she said.