Nigel Beswick was found not guilty today of Riot on charges relating to the night of February 21st 2000 at Goolengook.
Ian Pelz and Richard Yelds, both timber workers from Orbost pleaded guilty to Unlawful Assembly in County Court in Bairnsdale today. They were convicted for their role in the attack and received a four month prison sentence suspended for a year.
Sid Barr, Timothy Joiner, Peter Kurrle, Michael Jonkers, John Richardson, Scott Rogers, and Brian Cameron , who were committed to trial in January 2001, had their cases dropped due to ‘lack of evidence.’
Approximately fifty men participated in a violent attack on ten protestors close to their camp in Goolengook Forest, East Gippsland, in February 2000. Judge Ross of the County Court condemned the attack in court last May as "vigilante justice that… must not be tolerated…in our community."
Of the alleged fifty men engaged in the attack, twenty-one were committed to trial on riot charges. Of the twenty-one, twelve (including the two that were sentenced today.) have admitted to being at the scene of the crime and to participating in property damage totalling $30,000. However none were charged for the ten assaults that night.
Only the acquitted man, Beswick, has been taken to trial on riot charges, which include the assaults. Unlike the twelve who have pleaded guilty to lesser charges, Beswick has not been employed by the timber industry for ten years. He not only denied involvement in the incident, but also expressed concern about clearfelling in the region and sympathy for the protestor’s cause.
"This was the most violent act of political terrorism in East Gippsland’s recent history and the police and the courts have failed to punish it adequately. We expected that with the body of evidence, including a video tape of parts of the attack and police eye witness identifications, people would be held accountable." Said Tom Crook spokes person for the victims.
"We find it ironic that in an attack motivated by logging politics the only man ever pursued fully was the one with the weakest industry links. This has disturbing implications the industries influence on the processes of justice." Said Tom.
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Barrister Rob Stary has commended the four month prison sentences handed down in Bairnsdale County Court yesterday as a testament to the seriousness of the Goolengook attack.
Judge Ross, in handing down his sentence yesterday, described the incident as "despicable", "ugly", and "an attack on the good order and discipline of the community." He said he intended his sentence to "roundly denounce" the defendants’ "conduct, which is an offense to the community."
"We are pleased that Judge Ross recognized the seriousness of the crimes, and issued prison sentences," Stary said.
The mob attack on the long-standing Goolengook protest camp by fifty local men was the most brutal act of terror in East Gippsalnd’s recent history and involved assaults on nine conservationists and an estimated thirty thousand dollars of damage to property.
Yesterday, in the Bairnsdale County Court, ten local men were sentenced to four months imprisonment, suspended for a year, for their involvement in the attack. Earlier this month, the men, from Orbost, Newmerella, Buchan and Nowa Nowa, pleaded guilty to 'Unlawful Assembly,' a charge carrying a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment.
Local forest activists are "pleased that some admission of guilt for the horrifying incident has been made," said spokesperson Mo Harris. "However, for the nine victims of the assaults later that night, which were not considered in yesterday’s guilty plea, this sentence is only the beginning of adequate punishment." They look forward to the jury trial in Bairnsdale later this year, when more local men from the logging industry will be contesting the more serious charge of Riot which includes the assaults.
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Yesterday in the Bairnsdale Magistrate’s Court, two local men from the logging industry pleaded guilty to charges related to the mob attack on Goolengook protestors in February 2000. The attack, involving 50 men from the region, was the most brutal political terrorism in recent memory. It involved a midnight raid on the long-standing Goolengook protest camp, the assault of at least 9 individuals, and the damage of nearly $30,000 in property including two cars and a motorcycle.
Twenty-four men were originally charged with the attack following an investigation by the Bairnsdale Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB), and of these, three had their charges dropped at a committal hearing in 2001. The current hearing, beginning on Monday with a twenty-five year old local man pleading guilty to the charge of unlawful assembly, is expected to run for a week, with a total of ten defendents scheduled to enter pleas.
Yesterday another two local men pleaded guilty to the same charge of unlawful assembly, a common law offence with a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment. This is an admission by the men that they intended to commit a crime using open force. Three more are expected to appear in court today; leaving four more to be heard by the end of the week.
The men will be sentenced when the Magistrate has deliberated over the evidence presented this week, which includes statements by the victims of the attack. Another three of the men are expected to enter a plea of 'not guilty' and will go to trial later this year.
"The events of that night were designed to instill terror in the public and prevent them from exercising their right to protest," said Mo Harris, spokesperson for the victims. "Terror tactics have been loudly and universally attacked this year. We hope that the sentencing reflects the community’s, and the country’s, commitment to the principles of peaceful democratic participation and abhorrence for brute terrorist intimidation."
"We hope that the serious nature of this crime will be reflected in sentencing" said barrister Rob Stary. "So far, conservationists have been disproportionately dealt with when charged with non-violent offences; and it’s time authorities took an even-handed approach, sending the message that vigilante tactics will not be accepted by the community," he concluded.
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