Michael Finnane RFD KC passed away on Wednesday
The judge who sentenced one of Australia’s most notorious gang rapists to 55 years in prison has died behind bars at the age of 80.
Michael Finany KC died on Wednesday after 54 years working in the law – first as a barrister, then as a judge of the New South Wales District Court, and finally as president of the second floor Wentworth Chamber in Sydney.
He’s been at the helm of high-profile investigations, royal commissions and cases in the High Court of Australia, but he gained the most public recognition just over a year after his judicial appointment in 2000 – when he ruled on the Skaff gang.
Bilal Skaf, then 19, was the leader of a group of 14 men – including his brother Mohammed – who carried out a series of horrific sexual assaults shortly before the 2000 Olympics.
One of the victims, an 18-year-old woman, was raped 40 times by 14 men over the course of four hours in a coordinated cellphone attack. It was then dumped at a train station after being sprayed with water.
She was called “Aussie pig”, told she would get it “Leb-style” and asked if “Leb c**k tastes better than Aussie c***”.
During his sentencing, Finani compared the corruption of the Skaf gang to the outrages committed by invading armies in times of war and said that their crimes were “worse than murder”.
“These were not indiscriminate attacks and, in my opinion, they were intended to spread panic in the community,” he said at the time.
It seemed clear to me that these men were sending a message to the community in Sydney. It is clear that Skaf and the members of this gang wanted public recognition of what they had done.
Mohamed Skaf (pictured in 2000) was granted parole in September last year and moved back in with his parents in Sydney’s western suburbs.
Bilal Skaf (pictured) was the leader of a month-long gang in which six victims were raped by more than ten young Lebanese Australians.
Bilal was sentenced to 55 years in prison with 40 years without parole. At the time, this was the longest non-life sentence handed down in Australia.
His brother Muhammad was sentenced to 32 years in prison.
However, the Court of Criminal Appeal overturned the convictions and ordered a retrial in 2004 after it was revealed that two jurors had gone to the crime scene during the original trial and conducted their own experiments.
A retrial reduced Bilal’s sentence to 28 years, but he was eventually sentenced to 32 years with a non-parole period after an appeal in 2006. He remains in prison and will not be released until 2033.
Muhammad was re-sentenced to a minimum of 18 years and a maximum of 26 years. He was granted parole in September last year and moved back in with his parents in Greenacre, on the western outskirts of Sydney.
Despite the cuts, Finani stuck to his original sentence, opening in his 2018 memoir, Pursuit of Justice, about his life on the bench and in the pub.
Finnance chronicled his legal career and his lifelong campaign for social justice, particularly the treatment of those disenfranchised by the legal system.
NSW Police surveillance video taken on October 7, 2000, shows members of the Skaff gang at Bondi Beach
Deal with sadistic rapists before and after SCAF cases. Nothing has generated anything like the public interest these experiences have drawn.
“There have been other cases of sexual assault that I’ve heard of, some children and some adult women,” Venani wrote. All of them were examples of corruption and cruelty.
I am sure that many victims will be affected by these crimes for the rest of their lives.
“However, although these cases attracted some media attention during the course of the trials, they have largely passed with little comment.”
In the years since the landmark sentence, Finnane has been regularly asked about the Skaf case—sometimes by strangers, at social events and on other unexpected occasions.
“What caused the unprecedented public interest in the Skaff trials, and what sets them apart from all other sexual assault trials, were the repeated attacks in a short period of time by a gang with a carefully planned strategy,” wrote Finani.
These were not random assaults and, in my opinion, were intended to spread panic in the community.
‘Sexual intercourse without consent must be the worst crime after murder, because it involves a person’s invasion of another person’s body, usually violently. It is a crime against human dignity.
During the sentencing process at the end of the Skaff trials, I expressed the opinion that what this gang had done was worse than murder. I am still of this opinion.
What the Skaf gang did was enable multiple men to mutilate and degrade four young women. None of these young women will ever forget their experience at the hands of this gang.
He had been a New South District Court judge for just over a year when he was appointed to hear the Skaff gang trials, the first of which began on 13 December 2001.
Finan was responsible for sending notorious rapist Bilal Skaf to prison for 55 years
That day, Bilal Skaf, Bilal Hajid and Mohamed Ghanem sat behind bulletproof glass in the dock of a courtroom inside the Downing Center complex in Sydney.
Prospective jurors have been told the trial could last as long as a month and will include allegations that the three accused men, along with several others, sexually assaulted two girls against their will.
Finani told these citizens that evidence might be uncovered proving that those on trial were of Lebanese descent but that this had nothing to do with the question of whether they had committed any crime.
In 2021, he told A Current Affair about the emotional toll the case had taken on him and his personal relationships.
I was very upset about that. I found it very confrontational. He said he was assuming I had a crush in some way.
Sometimes people walk into a courthouse, see a judge and go, he’s sitting there snoozing away. He does not have to do anything, you just need to sit, look and listen.
But they do not know the inner turmoil. I found it hard to sleep sometimes.
Finnane will be buried in a private ceremony.
Skaff’s gang rape frenzy: a timeline
Bilal Skaf (pictured) was the leader of a gang of rapists who rampaged through Sydney in the weeks leading up to the 2000 Olympics.
August 10, 2000: Two teenagers, 17 and 18 years old, were offered the drugs. They were taken by car to the gang who were waiting at Northcote Park in Greenacre. The couple was forced to have sex with eight men.
August 12, 2000: Mohamed Skaf took a 16-year-old friend to his brother and other gang members in Gosling Park, Greenacre. Bilal Skaf and another man raped the girl in front of 12 men.
August 30, 2000: An 18-year-old woman was raped in Bankstown by Mohamed Skaf who told her he was going the “f**k her Leb” style. She was taken to two other locations and 14 men raped and assaulted her for six hours.
September 4, 2000: Two 16-year-old girls were taken from a Beverly Hills train station to a house where they were repeatedly raped by three men over the course of five hours.