Inner West Independent

Protestors released; cops shamed

Protestors opposing WestConnex were wrongly arrested and their charges for trespassing later rejected in Court. Photo: Alec Smart

During the Christmas period, where news can easily be swept under the carpet and on the final week of Court in 2017, five protesters who were involved with campaigning against the WestConnex road construction were acquitted.

Major investigative journalist, Wendy Bacon (who writes occasionally for City Hub) and community activists, Amy Gentle and James McCallum, were cleared from their charges of remaining on enclosed land under the NSW Inclosed Lands Act 1901.

During five court hearings, which led to the innocence of the protesters, much evidence surfaced to illustrate dishonest behaviour from the police.
Magistrate Fallent found that in order to be guilty of remaining on an enclosed lands offence, an accused person needed to have entered the enclosed land. Yet, evidence depicted showed that an AECOM engineer Nigel Baker had directed workers to build a fence around protesters on the site. The court findings supported the view that WestConnex contractors cannot build cages around peaceful protesters and then call police to threaten to arrest them if they do not leave.

On top of this, Baker confirmed that he refused to show any documentation of AECOM’s authority to begin drilling in Holmwood Street. He failed to produce any evidence in court that showed he had been appointed as an agent of RMS, which can exercise powers under the NSW Roads Act to do work on local roads.
Lawyer Peter O’Brien, who represented Wendy Bacon in court, argued that this meant Baker did not have the ‘apparent authority’ to request the removal of protesters from the site, which is required under the Inclosed Lands Act, meaning that the protesters were unfairly charged.

This resulted in Bacon being prohibited from going near WestConnex work sites, which in turn prevented her from reporting news and hindered her right to free speech.
A large part of the hearing dealt with the behaviour of uniformed and riot police officers during the arrest and the manner in which their court statements were prepared.
Police earlier withdrew a resist arrest charge against Amy Gentle whose hand was badly hurt during her arrest when NSW riot police dragged her from the ground. An ambulance officer called to Newtown police cells, where the accused were held for more than eight hours, later placed her hand in plaster.

Police were questioned about their use of wristlocks or ‘pain compliance’ technique on Bacon and Gentle. Under cross examination, Sergeant Paul Paxton, a member of NSW Police Odin or ‘Riot’ squad acknowledged that the purpose of the technique was to “gain compliance through the infliction of pain.’
Emails were offered in evidence that revealed riot squad police also changed their statements on request from Inspector Michael Dykes. In an email sent a few days after the arrests in which he sought the assistance of police involved in the arrests, Dykes addressed the riot squad as ‘gorillas’.
In his final address on behalf of Bacon, Peter O’Brien referred to police conduct in the case as being “highly reprehensible”.

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