Backpacker robbers can go home now

TWO Belgian backpackers who pleaded guilty to robbing a Nimbin cannabis dealer in June received suspended 12-month sentences yesterday in Lismore District Court.

Arno Leonis, 19, and Matthieu Walry, 20, both students, were both visibly relieved as an interpreter translated the ruling that will allow them to return home straight away.

Family members who had travelled from Belgium to support the young men were also relieved.

A representative of the Belgian Consulate, who attended court with the interpreter, appeared equally relieved with the result.

The court heard the men had lured the victim from Cullen St to their campervan in Nimbin on the pretence of buying cannabis - and the presumption she would not report the crime to police.

They then threatened her and grabbed her handbag containing $150 in cash and personal items before making their getaway. The victim received a minor graze.

The pair were arrested by police at gunpoint on the Pacific Hwy north of Brunswick Heads that day and charged with robbery in company.

Because they were perceived as being a flight risk at the time, Magistrate R Denes refused bail, forcing them to spend 27 days in custody until a friend who lived locally provided surety for them.

Judge James Black took both these factors into consideration, admitting it must have been frightening for the young and naive offenders in a foreign country, but he would not accept they did not realise the "wickedness" of their actions.

Neither had any criminal record in Australia or Belgium and both supplied good references.

Both had told police and the court that they had both been robbed of their possessions and needed the money to travel to Sydney to catch their flight home.

Judge Black would not accept that as an excuse, explaining they should have understood how their victim would feel.

He also acknowledged the considerable stress and financial hardship experienced by both families who he felt would keep the boys in line.

Judge Black found the mitigating circumstances of robbing someone allegedly engaged in criminal activity was cancelled out by the fact the robbery was premeditated.

He subsequently found the pair were genuinely remorseful and posed a low risk of re-offending.

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