Attack on backpacker ends in jail

A BACKPACKER snoozing in a Byron Bay laneway late at night after eating a pie had his happy holiday dreams abruptly shattered by James Nugent when the thief demanded his mobile phone and money.

Nugent, 21, from Ballina, was jailed for six months on Friday after pleading guilty in Lismore Local Court to charges of affray; assault causing bodily harm and stealing from the traveller at 1am on August 21 last year behind the Byron Bay Bakehouse.

The backpacker was later assaulted by Nugent after he tracked the thief down to get his mobile phone back.

Magistrate Robyn Denes told Nugent the traveller had not deserved to be assaulted because he only wanted his stolen property back.

The victim noticed the thief had a distinctive tattoo on his neck and at 3am he and two Canadian travellers found Nugent outside a hotel with a group of mates.

When asked for his stolen mobile phone to be returned, Nugent denied he had it before punching the backpacker twice in the face.

Nugent and his mates attacked the three travellers with the affray continuing along Lawson Street before the holidaymakers, fearing for their safety, fled back to their hostel.

Nugent was arrested by police, but ran off only to be re-arrested moments later. He admitted the affray, telling police he had been ‘up for a fight’.

Defence lawyer Laura Fennell said her client was not a hardened criminal, with his offending behaviour and drug use starting at 15 following the suicide of his mother.

She said on the night of this offence, Nugent took ecstasy – ‘he described it as a binge’ – with the crime not planned, but spontaneous.

The Crown prosecutor said no co-offenders had been charged for the affray as no one else other than Nugent was caught.

“There was a decamping of sorts when the police came into sight, so no one else was picked up,” she told the magistrate.

The Crown revealed Nugent had been in jail since last September on other offences and would remain in custody until February 5.

Ms Denes commented there had been frequent incidents of violence in Byron Bay, with tourists as the targets. She said the traveller in this incident received ‘a smack in the mouth’ for trying to get his phone back.

Ms Fennell stated: ‘The victims were tourists, young men; this sort of street fighting is not uncommon’.

The magistrate sentenced Nugent to 15 months jail with a non-parole of six months to begin on February 5. She said he also needed extensive supervision when released on parole.

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