Ararat sex offender search: Mayor Paul Hooper reassures residents 'town is safe'

CORRECTIONS Victoria and Ararat Mayor Paul Hooper have defended the circumstances which led to a convicted child rapist escaping from Ararat’s Corella Place.

Andrew Darling, 42, sparked a state-wide manhunt after he walked out of the correctional centre at 2.30am on Sunday.

Darling remains on the run.

Northern Grampians Inspector Ian Lindsay said the search had expanded across Victoria and was being co-ordinated by the Fugitive Taskforce and the Ararat Criminal Investigation Unit.

“We have searched the surrounds of the correctional centre and extended that search into the rural communities and no sightings have been confirmed,” he said.

Darling was convicted of the rape of a 13-year-old girl in 2000.

After completing a nine-year sentence, he broke parole and was arrested in Queensland.

He escaped from Corella in 2010 and was on the run for 51 hours before being arrested at the Landsborough Hotel.

A Corrections Victoria spokesman said residents at Corella Place were subject to the toughest supervision and restrictions available outside the prison system.

“Corella Place is not a prison,” he said. 

“It is a 40-bed community residential centre that provides accommodation for serious sex offenders who have completed their full sentence but are still not ready to transition into the community. 

“Residents are members of the community – they are not prisoners – but are subject to onerous conditions set by the court. 

“These conditions include where they must live, electronic monitoring and supervision, and treatment requirements.”

Cr Hooper said he had been approached by one concerned resident who lived close to Corella Place.

“As a general observation, while our community is a little nervous about it you’ve got to realise Ararat has had institutions here since the 1890s,” he said.

“It’s not as if we’re not aware of what Hopkins or Corella does – large parts of our community work there.’’

Cr Hooper said corrections services were the municipality’s primary employer.

He said the electronic tracking system had worked as intended after Darling left the grounds of Corella Place.

“From what I’ve been told the electronic bracelet worked,” he said. 

“It set off an alarm as soon as it was tampered with, which is what it’s designed to do.”

Cr Hooper said it was important to remember residents at Corella Place were not housed in a prison.

“The environment out there is unique in that these individuals for all intents and purposes are in residential care,” he said.

“They’re not locked up behind bars as some people think they ought to be or perceive them to be.”

He said he was sure the community was safe.

Police said anyone with information about Darling’s whereabouts should call 000 immediately.

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