A new charge slapped on two protesters at the Glenugie CSG test well site by police is intended to ‘stop people trying to wash car windows at intersections’, according to the men’s legal adviser.
Alan Roberts and Bradley Rankin were set to appear before Maclean Local Court on Tuesday in what was to have been a test case, with some 26 other protesters awaiting trial on similar charges.
But the case was adjourned after police dropped the original charges and subsequently introduced a single new charge against both men.
Rankin had previously been charged with hindering police and Roberts with being a pedestrian obstructing a driver.
Both are now charged with ‘attempting to obstruct a driver’.
Speaking to Echonetdaily yesterday, lawyer Philip Wkyeham was highly critical of the entire police process.
‘[The local police] informed us last Thursday that these two charges were definitely dropped and so they wouldn’t be proceeding and that all the other Glenugie charges would be dropped,’ he said.
‘They said it had to be confirmed by Sydney but that this was what was going to happen.
‘Then on Friday we got a phone call from somebody in Sydney we’d never dealt with before who said, “no that’s true. The charges are going to be dropped but we’re going to place new charges”.
‘On Monday, the people in the local police prosecution office [still] didn’t know what was going on.’
‘It wasn’t till Monday afternoon that I got a copy [of the new charge].
‘When we went down to Maclean on Tuesday, we didn’t think [the charge] actually existed. But it exists in a rather convoluted way because of one of the sections of road rules refers to the Commonwealth Act… which is there to make the road rules uniform throughout the states,’ Mr Wykeham told Echonetdaily.
He said the change of charge suggested police were clutching at straws.
‘We felt fairly confident because we’d had people up in Grafton on similar offences and we’d managed to get the charges dismissed.
‘The police [then] had failed to follow procedure in one instance and, in the one with the vehicle, there was actually no vehicle anywhere in the vicinity. And they had to establish that if someone was going to obstruct a driver they had to demonstrate there was a driver actually there.’
Mr Wykeham was also highly critical of the amount of money being spent by the police in pursuing the case.
‘All the police witnesses turned up and hung around and didn’t get to do anything because essentially it was just a legal argument between the counsel acting for the CSG protesters, Ben Cochrane, and the prosecutor, who’d travelled all the way up from Sydney to do this.’
It wasn’t only the defence team who were frustrated by the situation.
APN media reported that magistrate David Heilpern awarded costs of $5,510 against the police and described the prosecution’s behaviour as ‘unreasonable’.
The new charges will be heard at Ballina Local Court on August 15.