Cleo Smith: Man jailed for 13 years for abducting child from Western Australia campsite

Girl (4) was found in Terence Darrell Kelly’s house after an extensive 18-day search in 2021

The man who abducted four-year-old Cleo Smith from her family’s tent at a remote Western Australian campsite in 2021 has been sentenced to 13 years and six months in jail.

Terence Darrell Kelly (37) pleaded guilty in January 2022 to the single charge of abducting Cleo, and will have to spend at least 11 years and six months in prison before he is eligible for parole.

The extensive 18-day search for missing Cleo captured global headlines in October 2021 after the girl vanished in the dead of night from a tent shared by her parents and younger sister.

The chief judge of the Western Australia district court, Julie Wager, told a court in Perth on Wednesday that Kelly has a severe and complex personality disorder and had injected methylamphetamine on the night he stole the child.


She said Cleo and her family will be permanently affected by the events of that night and described the torment and pain her parents suffered in the 18 days she was away from them.

In mitigating circumstances, the judge acknowledged Kelly’s turbulent upbringing, his prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol and a life surrounded by violence as contributing to his offending.

“I fully accept that your personality disorder was caused by the environment that you were raised and by the deprivation to you as a child,” Ms Wager said. “There are no truly comparable cases.”

During his sentencing, Kelly sat in the dock wearing a khaki green shirt, his head turned away from a packed press and public gallery.

After the abduction, Cleo’s mother, Ellie Smith, woke at 6am to find the tent zipper opened 30cm – higher than the four-year-old could reach – and Cleo and her red sleeping bag missing from the Blowholes campground, which is a 10-hour drive north of Perth.

Within hours, police launched one of WA’s biggest search operations, scouring inhospitable terrain, rugged cliffs and rough ocean.

Thousands of missing child posters were plastered across WA, the state government offered a $1m reward and Cleo’s mother and stepfather Jake Gliddon made an emotional television plea for their daughter to be returned.

But it was data analysis that eventually led detectives to Cleo and her captor. About 1am on Wednesday, November 3rd, 2021, police stormed Kelly’s locked duplex house in nearby Carnarvon and found the girl playing with toy cars alone in a bedroom.

She was being held just a few kilometres from her family home about an hour south of the wilderness campsite where she was kidnapped. Audio of the moment when detectives found the girl was broadcast and quickly went viral. She told them: “My name is Cleo.”

An hour earlier, Kelly had been pulled over while driving and was arrested.

On January 24th, two months after his arrest and at his third court appearance, Kelly pleaded guilty to the single charge of abducting Cleo.

Kelly has been held at a Casuarina maximum security prison in Perth for nearly 18 months. The sentence will be backdated to take this time served into account. – Guardian