Rusty Harris arrives at Railway Park, Byron Bay, on his horse, Billy, to celebrate his success in court.
Rusty Harris arrives at Railway Park, Byron Bay, on his horse, Billy, to celebrate his success in court.

A lot of smoke, and still plenty of fire ...


'Sniffer-Dog Hero' has his day in court, and vows to continue the fight

It TOOK four years and 23 court appearances, but yesterday Nimbin's self-proclaimed 'Sniffer-Dog Hero', Rusty Harris, won the final round in his battle against the system.

Yesterday, the Rastafarian folk-hero galloped triumphantly into Byron Bay astride his trusty stead Billy, did a few victory laps around Railway Park, and then took to the stage, inviting the crowd to get stoned.

The 100-strong crowd was there to celebrate Rusty's historic court victory against the legality of a search by police sniffer dog Thor who discovered 26 grams of cannabis on Mr Harris in 2001.

The Kyogle man was charged and subsequently found guilty in Lismore Local Court of possessing a prohibited drug and fined $200.

Rusty successfully appealed against the decision in the Lismore District Court, yesterday, and the charge was quashed.

At Railway Park, after the reggae band had stopped playing 'Rusty won man, yes, Rusty won man', Rusty took hold of the microphone.

"Thank you, I love you and now we're gonna pass out the joints and all get stoned. Stuff 'em," he laughed.

Wearing long hemp robes, dreadlocks and Indian beads, the 56-year-old Rastafarian said: "This is about principles, civil liberties and human rights."

With legal representatives: Senior counsel Clive Steirn SC, junior counsel Stephen Hegedus JC and solicitor Steve Bolt, Rusty had argued in court that the marijuana found was inadmissible as evidence because the sniffer dog broke the law by touching him before he was under suspicion.

Mr Bolt said the dog nuz- zled Rusty in the groin, which, without sufficient reason, was a form of trespass.

Mr Bolt said, under a previous decision by the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal, a sniffer dog's actions were legal as long as they sniffed the air.

"What's important is that it defines where police powers begin and end, and says that police can't touch or search someone without reasonable suspicion."

A vindicated Rusty yesterday said: "We've proved the search was illegal.

"This wasn't about me smoking cannabis. I'm a cannabis smoker, everyone knows that.

"What it comes down to is they're not allowed to touch you," he said.

Rusty vowed to continuing fighting in court: Next time for costs.

"This has cost me $14,000 in legal costs, even more with all the travel costs and I've had to borrow that from friends and from donations," he said.

Rusty said his battle against the system would be the subject of an upcoming documentary and possibly a $50 million feature film.

And he also wants to see a $35 million hemp processing mill set up in Nimbin.

A spokesman for NSW Police Minister Carl Scully said he would need to study the case before he was in a position to comment on the implications for future sniffer dog operations.

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