In Lismore Local Court yesterday, magistrate David Heilpern dismissed charges against eight people who were arrested during protests at Glenugie in January against gas exploration company Metgasco.
The expected move follows his decision in October to stop prosecution against two other protesters charged with similar offences, calling the charges ‘vexatious’ and telling police prosecutors they were wasting the court’s time.
Lock the Gate Northern Rivers have called the arrests and subsequent prosecution ‘an abuse of police process’.
At that hearing, the activists’ legal representatives Steve Bolt and Ben Cochrane successfully argued that the prosecution had no reasonable likelihood of getting a conviction against any of the protesters because police had failed to follow correct procedures when making arrests.
Yesterday’s group comprised Jarred Fordham, Bob Kershaw, Nigel McKee, John Medland, Binnah Pownall, Brad Rankin, Alan Roberts, Ruth Rosenhek, Rodney Sharp and Daniele Voinot, most of whom were charged with attempting to obstruct traffic and/or hindering police.
They are the same charges that were dismissed against Alan Roberts and Bradley Rankin in the previous case.
Magistrate Heilpern previously awarded $5,000 costs to lawyers for Mr Roberts and Mr Rankin, whose charges were changed without proper notification, and another $10,500 yesterday.
The court had agreed that proceedings against Rankin and Roberts was to be a test case, so yesterday’s decision came as no surprise.
Even so, protesters are delighted to have the matters resolved, according to president of the Northern Rivers Guardians, Scott Sledge.
‘Residents are preparing to prevent Metgasco from continuing with plans to establish an industrial gasfield here. Metgasco recently announced their intention to drill near Bungabee Road, Bentley, only 14km from Lismore. Local residents will oppose this insanity,’ he said.
Daniele Voinot, one of the people who had charges dropped yesterday, said it was ‘unfair for the police to be used for political purposes and put in a position where they have to protect wrongdoing’.
‘The real crime is not [perpetrated by] those who stand up to protect the future for our children and grandchildren, but those who intend to wreck our area for the sake of a quick buck.’
Speaking on behalf of Lock The Gate Northern Rivers, Scott Sledge said, ‘The police were used by the NSW state government to impose a destructive industry onto a region which doesn’t want it’.
‘As a taxpayer I am opposed to police being used in this way and now the costs include more than $15,000 in legal fees in addition to all the expenses of sending the Riot Squad from Sydney and for subsequently prosecuting people who are not criminals,’ he said. ‘Many people are calling this an abuse of process.’
Ms Voinot, who has eleven grandchildren, said, ‘Our legal team has done a fine job and I want to thank them all’.