Student pleads guilty to accessing records about Frances Abbott design scholarship

The Sydney student who leaked information about a fashion school scholarship controversially awarded to the daughter of the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has pleaded guilty to accessing restricted data.

Freya Rachael Sommerville Newman, 21, admitted in the Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday that she used her position as a part-time librarian at the Whitehouse Design Institute to access information about the $60,000 "Director's Scholarship" awarded to Frances Abbott in 2011.

Frances Abbott with her father Toby Abbott and Leanne Whitehouse at an exhibition at the Whitehouse Institute.
Frances Abbott with her father Toby Abbott and Leanne Whitehouse at an exhibition at the Whitehouse Institute. Photo: Supplied

Accompanied by her parents and friends, Ms Newman, a resident of Hunters Hill who studies creative writing and cultural studies at the University of Technology, sat quietly in the court while her solicitor entered the guilty plea, before leaving quickly without making any comment.

A police statement of facts, released for the first time, reveals that on May 20, Ms Newman used the user name and password of another staff member at the institute to access its student record system, without the staff member's knowledge.

Freya Newman leaves Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday.
Freya Newman leaves Downing Centre Local Court on Thursday. Photo: Paul Bibby

The documents allege that Ms Newman then emailed two other institute employees, saying: "... there's a bit about Frances meeting with Leanne J, the CEO of Whitehouse Institute on February 21, 2011 and then receiving a Managing Director's Scholarship three days later".

Soon after she sent another email saying: "Got 'em - might go meet Chris now to talk tactics, see you tomorrow."


The police say this was a reference to Chris Graham, the editor and publisher of the New Matilda website which published an article about Ms Abbott's scholarship the following day.

Ms Newman took screen shots of the information from the system, which she returned to the institute earlier this month.

She resigned from her job as a librarian the next day.

The Whitehouse Institute denies providing Ms Abbott with any special treatment.

It has been reported that the school has never previously provided any student with a scholarship, but the institute's chief executive, Ian Tudor, said these claims were untrue.

"The Whitehouse Institute of Design has offered a variety of scholarships for 25 years, including the Chairman's Scholarship (formerly the Managing Director's Scholarship). All scholarships are discretionary and awarded on merit. As with any private educational establishment, we have a duty to protect the privacy of our current and former students and therefore are not providing details on discussions that led to individual scholarship decisions. At no time has the Institute lobbied the Prime Minister on issues of education policy or the accreditation of Whitehouse courses."  he said.

Ms Newman will return to court for sentencing next month. The offence carries a maximum penalty of two years' jail.

This story has been amended to include comments from the Whitehouse Institute's Ian Tudor.