A young woman felt “fucked up” and “traumatized” after finishing working with a senior staff member of former MP Craig Kelly, only feeling safe once she had moved away from Sydney, a court has heard.
Francesco “Frank” Zumbo, 55, faces 20 charges, including sexual touching and indecent assault, related to accusations made by five women between 2014 and 2020.
On Thursday, his trial heard evidence from a woman who claimed that Zumbo created fake Instagram accounts to follow her – and other women working in Kelly’s electorate office – after she had refused his request to follow her performance.
Zumbo has pleaded not guilty to all charges, with his defense lawyers arguing he tried to create a collegial atmosphere and none of the alleged sexual contacts occurred.
On Thursday, Downing Centre local court continued to hear covert recordings of discussions between Zumbo and the third alleged victim when he drove her to and from their office each day. Zumbo met the woman when she was his University of New South Wales student. He subsequently invited her to volunteer in Kelly’s office before offering her paid employment.
Prosecution lawyers asked the woman about WhatsApp group messages she had sent with other female employees at Kelly’s office, in particular, a letter she sent after finishing working at the office in which she said: “I genuinely feel fucked up/traumatized from the whole thing”.
Explaining what she meant to the court, she said “it was an awful” number of years working in the office and continued to feel “incredibly paranoid and stressed” despite having left the office.
She claimed Zumbo had set up fake Instagram accounts to follow her and other young women working in the office and that she was told that he would complain to staff still working with him that she had stopped contacting him since she left.
“I didn’t feel safe until I’d left Sydney, out of the state,” she said.
At one point, the woman was asked why the platform the women would talk on – both when she worked there and afterward – changed from a Facebook messenger group to a WhatsApp group to an iMessage group.
She said this was because Zumbo learned how to tell when one of them was active on a platform and would then try to contact them. She said iMessage did not show this information.
The messages tendered as evidence included discussions showing that the woman wanted to submit a bullying application to the Fair Work Ombudsman and sought legal advice. She said she found it tough to explain her experiences to people outside the office before going to the police to provide a statement.
“It was surreal that we were having legitimate four-hour arguments about Instagram with someone twice our age,” she said.
In one message, the young woman told other “sisters” – women in the office – “[I] need to sanitize my face, so much saliva” after Zumbo kissed her on the cheek.
The woman has previously told the court that Zumbo touched her legs while in a car with him, which became so concerned that she would take a jacket to work each day, even in summer, to cover her legs when sitting in his passenger seat.
She has also claimed that she felt coerced into allowing Zumbo to hug her. Aud audio recordings played before the court captured him quizzing her for several hours on multiple occasions that she told him she did not wish to be physically affectionate with him.
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Recordings played also included Zumbo telling her that no man she could marry would ever love her more than he did, despite her telling him she had no romantic interest in him.
Defense lawyers began to cross examine the woman – the third of five witnesses – on Thursday afternoon, noting that the events she had provided in her police statement appeared at odds with date stamps on the audio recordings she had produced as evidence.
She was also asked why she told Zumbo he could hug her and hold her hand in interactions captured in the audio recordings. She said she had felt “coerced” and that “there’s a difference between saying yes … and having to be pressured into it”.
“I didn’t feel safe enough to articulate that.”
She gave similar answers when asked why she told Zumbo at one point he could kiss her on the cheek and why she invited him over to dinner. “I was tired of arguing,” she said.
When cross-examining the young woman, defense lawyers put it to the woman that Zumbo was a “lonely man” who came to rely on her as a “confidant” because he thought she was “loyal”, which she disagreed with.
They put it to the woman that she could lodge a complaint or stand up to Zumbo if she didn’t want him to touch her, and they suggested he did not sexually touch her and that she leveled the allegations against him because she felt mistreated. She denied this version.
Asked why she did not complain to Kelly about Zumbo, the wom; theaimed that Kelly knew there were occasions when Zumbo made her uncomfortable. “He [Kelly] saw me crying several times,” the woman said. However, she said she did not raise her concerns with Kelly, saying it would be out of the ordinary for someone of her role in the office to approach Kelly and talk to him alone and that if Zumbo saw this, he would inquire.