All charges against Big Rob stemming from an incident at a Lismore sushi restaurant and his subsequent visit to a woman’s workplace and radio broadcast last November have been dismissed.
The former Lismore mayoral candidate was charged with common assault and four counts of stalking and intimidation following an incident with Leanne Martin at the Sushi Kuni restaurant on November 22, and events over the following days.
Police alleged Mr Rob assaulted Mrs Martin and intimidated her at the restaurant after she took a photo he was in, then he proceeded to intimidate her via comments on his Facebook page about the incident.
The following day, Mr Rob said he went to Mrs Martin’s employer, Multitask, to complain about the incident and he then proceeded to talk about what happened without naming her but outing her employer, on his radio program on 88.9 Richmond Valley Radio.
When she left Sushi Kuni, Mrs Martin went to police to complain about the incident and following investigations by police, Mr Rob was charged.
As Mr Rob entered not guilty pleas to all charges, the matters were set down for hearing.
Magistrate Brian Van-Zuylen presided over the matters in a day long hearing at Lismore Local Court on Wednesday.
Detective Sergeant Russell Ewing, who prepared the brief of evidence against Mr Rob was the first of five prosecution witnesses who gave evidence.
Under examination from prosecutor Sergeant Jodie Miller, Det Sgt Ewing tendered statements from four police, Sgt Matthew Johnson, Det Senior Constables Mark Banfield and Matthew Hudson and Senior Constable David Henderson.
Statements from the manager of Sushi Kuni restaurant, Lismore Centro manager Andrew Fraser, restaurant witness Darren Bell and Mrs Martin’s boss at Multitask, Raylene Vincent were also tendered as evidence.
A mobile phone video taken when Mr Rob attended a Multitask office the day after the alleged incident at the restaurant and a recording from his radio program where he describes what happened were also tendered as well as CCTV footage from outside the restaurant.
‘This feral that works at Multitask snuck up behind me while I was enjoying my dinner,’ Mr Rob said on radio.
Sgt Miller submitted ‘live stream’ footage of Mr Rob driving to Lismore police station commenting about the events amounted to intimidation.
In the footage, when Det Sgt Ewing said he was being charged with intimidation, Mr Rob replied ‘you’re a rude obnoxious turd, I don’t want to talk to you.’
The court also heard Big Rob had lodged complaints about Lismore police Superintendent Greg Martin and Crime Manager Detective Chief Inspector Cameron Lindsay with the regional commander.
Under cross examination, Mr Robs solicitor Vince Boss questioned why the matters at the restaurant were pursued after a police report created on the night of the incident clearly indicated no further action was being taken.
It was alleged Det Sgt Ewing pursued the charges at the direction of Chief Insp Lindsay after police learned Mr Rob had lodged complaints about the two most senior officers in the Richmond Local Area Command, an allegation flatly denied by police.
Mr Boss also drew attention to three different versions of events given to police by Mrs Martin about the incident at Sushi Kuni.
Sergeant Dylan Coleman, who took Mrs Martin’s complaint after she left the restaurant, gave evidence via videolink from Walgett, where he is now stationed, tendering two statements as evidence.
Under cross-examination Mr Boss confirmed Sgt Coleman de a second statement to correct an error in the first statement that Mrs Martin’s daughter wasn’t present at the restaurant.
‘The general feeling was that you wanted no further action taken in regards to the matter,’ Mr Boss asked.
‘Yes that’s correct,’ Sgt Coleman replied.
Leanne Martin told the court she was a customer of Mr Rob’s at his former kebab shop and had never had a problem with him before the November 22 incident.
She said she went to Sushi Kuni to get food and took photos of the restaurant to send to her daughter, who moved away before it opened.
‘I took a photo of a Japanese image,’ she said in evidence.
‘I knew Big Rob was there but I didn’t think it would matter.’
After taking two photos, Mrs Martin said she lined up to order food when she was approached by Mr Rob in an aggressive manner.
‘He came at me suddenly, dramatically,’ Mrs Martin said.
‘He seemed angry, pissed off.
‘He asked why I was taking a photo of him, in an aggressive manner.
‘I think I did say I’m not taking a photo of you, you’re a dickh**d.’
Mrs Martin said Mr Rob then pulled out his mobile phone and took a photo within arms length of her.
‘I feel really intimidated by that guy and I want to stand next to you,’ Mrs Martin claimed she said to a fellow customer.
While waiting for her food, Mrs Martin said she was highly anxious, then she felt a tug at her shirt, which she presumed was Mr Rob trying to get her attention.
After placing her order, Mrs Martin said she noticed Playquest manager Darren Bell so she went to stand near him where she would feel safe.
‘I was shaking, I was feeling anxious, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty,’ she said.
‘As soon as I got my food I went straight to the police station.’
Police told Mrs Martin they would be informing Mr Rob of her complaint.
Within hours of the incident, Mrs Martin said she was receiving messages from friends telling her she was being discussed on Facebook and her profile was being shared.
‘Big Rob was saying lots of negative, nasty things about me,’ Mrs Martin said.
‘It made me concerned about the reputation I had at work and in my community.
‘I also felt completely violated in a way that someone had completely invaded my privacy.
‘I had discussions with my employer and it was recommended that I shut down my Facebook page, which I did, and change my privacy settings.’
Being accused of using illicit drugs by Mr Rob left Mrs Martin feeling ‘hurt and angry’.
‘Are people who regularly use illegal drugs allowed to work in such organisations as Multitask,’ the court heard Mr Rob posted.
Since the incident where she claimed she was targeted, Mrs Martin said she suffers panic attacks and anxiety.
‘Aside from people thinking I’m a drug addict, I still get people wanting to talk about the incident,’ Mrs Martin said.
‘It makes me feel that people may actually believe what he is saying and that affects my standing in the community.’
On the advice of her employer, Mrs Martin said she complained to police about Mr Rob’s Facebook posts on November 24.
Under cross-examination by Mr Boss, Mrs Martin said she wasn’t aware Mr Rob operated various Facebook pages including North Coast Crime, Lismore Radio and Lismore Information Exchange.
But when pressed by Mr Boss, she said she was blocked from those pages.
Mrs Martin admitted she had made adverse comments about Mr Rob, but she claimed they were only to friends.
‘I’ve deleted posts regarding Big Rob to allow the legal process to take its course, Mrs Martin posted on her Facebook page on November 23, which was tendered as evidence.
She denied stirring up hatred toward Mr Rob by posting hateful, adverse, derogatory comments about him on Facebook.
‘Mr Rob banned you from his shop because of your behaviour around the shop,’ Mr Boss said.
‘That’s news to me’ Mrs Martin said.
Mr Boss suggested Mrs Martin wasn’t at all intimidated and followed Mr Rob from Lismore Centro to Carrington Street and took his photo.
‘This is just a part of an ongoing animosity with Big Rob,’ Mr Boss said.
‘No,’ Mrs Martin replied.
Under re-examination by Sgt Miller, Mrs Martin said she only deleted other peoples adverse comments about Mr Rob on her Facebook page not comments she had made.
Mr Boss said claims by Mrs Martin she didn’t post anything on Facebook in reaction to other people’s comments about Mr Rob were a lie.
Magistrate Van-Zuylen then asked Mrs Martin why Mr Rob featured so prominently in one of the photos she took.
‘To be honest with you I didn’t think anything about it,’ Mrs Martin said.
Fourth prosecution witness Darren Bell told the court he knew Mrs Martin as a ‘very valued respected customer’ of Playquest and he saw her at Sushi Kuni on November 22.
He said he saw Mr Rob take a photo of Mrs Martin ‘about six inches from her face’ but did not see any physical contact between the pair or a verbal exchange.
‘This individual approached her in a highly aggressive, intimidating manner,’ Mr Bell said.
‘I could see that she was visibly upset and she wasn’t ok,’ Mr Bell said.
But under cross-examination by Mr Boss, Mr Bell admitted he made no mention in his statement of Mr Rob approaching Mrs Martin in a highly aggressive manner.
Mr Bell also agreed he didn’t hear a verbal exchange between the pair and didn’t mention in his statement that Mrs Martin was anxious and shaking and trembling.
Raylene Vincent, Mrs Martin’s manager at Multitask told the court Mr Rob had complained to her about posts on Facebook.
Mrs Vincent said she told Mr Rob she would talk to Mrs Martin about his complaint but took no action.
Following the restaurant incident, Mrs Vincent said Mrs Martin came to her to explain what had happened and showed her the photo she took.
‘Leanne came in and she was quite upset,’ Mrs Vincent said.
‘She went pale and started shaking.’
The prosecution then declared their evidence in chief complete and closed their case.
Mr Boss then called Mr Rob to give evidence.
Mr Rob told the court Mrs Martin was blocked from several of his Facebook pages due to abusive posts.
He said while he was eating his dinner at the restaurant, two women opposite asked why Mrs Martin was taking his photo, so he approached her and took a photo of her as evidence.
‘She abused me and said why was I taking her photo,’ Mr Rob said.
When he asked why she was taking a photo of him, Mr Rob said Mrs Martin replied ‘why would I want a photo of you’.
Sushi Kuni was new, Sgt Miller said under cross-examination, and Mrs Martin was just taking photos to show her daughter.
‘There is absolutely no doubt in my mind she was taking my photo,’ Mr Rob said.
Mr Rob denied approaching Mrs Martin in an aggressive manner and denied he was unhappy about her taking his photo, something he said he was used to.
‘It happens every day (people taking his photo) and it would be unusual if it didn’t happen,’ Mr Rob said.
As he needed two hands to take Mrs Martin’s photo with his mobile phone, Mr Rob said it would have been impossible for him to tug at her shirt.
Sgt Miller suggested Mr Rob assumed Mrs Martin had taken a photo of him to post online as a meme with derogatory comments about him.
‘Yes it happens all the time,’ Mr Rob said.
But as it didn’t happen, Sgt Miller asked whether he jumped to conclusions.
‘Maybe,’ he said.
‘I made an assumption but the assumption I made is about what happens all the time.’
When Sgt Miller suggested Mr Rob knew Mrs Martin would find out about his Facebook post concerning her despite the fact she was blocked, he agreed ‘yeah’.
‘This is all a story that you have put online for your followers to draw attention to yourself, Sgt Miller said and Mr Rob rejected.
‘So you’re saying calling someone a feral is not threatening,’ Sgt Miller asked Mr Rob.
‘People out at Nimbin call themselves ferals,’ Mr Rob replied.
‘It certainly isn’t intimidating.’
Sgt Miller suggested Mr Rob did intimidate Mrs Martin by his Facebook posts about her.
‘I don’t think so, I didn’t think she could see them,’ Mr Rob said.
‘Would you agree that if she had seen that post she would have been in fear,’ Sgt Miller asked Mr Rob.
‘No. I don’t do anything to cause people fear,’ Mr Rob said.
‘You had no business to go to her place of work other than to cause trouble for her,’ Sgt Miller said.
‘No. I went there to lodge a complaint,’ Mr Rob said.
All the things Mr Rob posted and broadcast about Mrs Martin were to cause her mental anguish, Sgt Miller said.
‘Not at all. She is blocked and banned,’ Mr Rob said.
‘I had no intention of upsetting her.’
In closing submissions, Sgt Miller asked Magistrate Van-Zuylen to accept Mrs Martin took a photo of artwork at Sushi Kuni and not Mr Rob, and he tugged on her shirt to get her attention.
Sgt Miller said Mr Robs actions caused Mrs martin emotional distress.
‘I’d ask your honour to accept the conduct of Mr Rob iin totality did amount to intimidation,’ Sgt Miller said.
‘He had the intention to intimidate her and he stalked her by going to her place of work.’
‘I’d ask your honour to find Mr Rob guilty beyond reasonable doubt of all offences,’ Sgt Miller said.
No aspect of physical touching, Mr Boss said, was proven regarding the charge of common assault and CCTV of her leaving Sushi Kuni demonstrated her demeanour.
‘Clearly that is not someone who is distressed, who is intimidated,’ Mr Boss said.
‘Going to Multitask to make a complaint doesn’t amount to intimidation or stalking.’
Broadcasting his opinion about the incident, without naming Mrs Martin, didn’t amount to harassment or stalking, Mr Boss said.
‘If it was I suggest that there would be a number of radio programs in trouble,’ Mr Boss said.
Magistrate Van-Zuylen questioned how social media comments, which Mrs Martin couldn’t see, and comments on a radio program she didn’t hear, could amount to an approach, according to the charge of stalking and intimidation.
‘The court is not persuaded that this amounts to an approach,’ Magistrate Van-Zuylen said.
‘There s no suggestion he is threatening injury in any way.’
He then turned to the two photos Mrs Martin took, with the first photo clearly showing Mr Rob prominently in the foreground and Japanese art in the background.
‘That picture undermines Mrs Martin’s view that she was simply taking a photo of the art,’ Magistrate Van-Zuylen said.
‘The court is not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the behaviour of Mr rob of taking a photo of Mrs Martin at Sushi Kuni or tugging on her shirt amounts to assault.’
‘The charges are dismissed.’
While Magistrate Van-Zuylen said Mr Rob made rude, discourteous and insulting comments on his radio program about Mrs Martin, they did not amount to intimidation, and he dismissed the second count.
‘The court has not been persuaded that the language used on a Facebook site that she was blocked from amounts to intimidation,’ Magistrate Van-Zuylen said when dismissing the third count.
As Mrs Martin was a transport driver for Multitask, the office attended by Mr Rob wasn’t her workplace and his actions there didn’t amount stalking or intimidation, Mr Van-Zuylen said when dismissing the final charge.
Magistrate Van-Zuylen adjourned Mr Rob’s remaining matters relating to an AVO involving Lismore Mayor Isaac Smith until December 22, for a hearing that is estimated to take two to three hours.
Mr Rob remains on conditional bail until that date.