COVID-19 forces Lismore trial to relocate to Coffs Harbour
A TRIPLE-headed trial for three men accused of a home invasion in The Channon will be moved to Coffs Harbour because of COVID-19 concerns.
Thomas O’Brien, Hillel Pulley and Chris Michael O’Brien will be facing trial for the charges against them, including entering of a dwelling with intent to cause intimidation with a dangerous weapon, reckless wounding in company and affray.
All three men are defending allegations a weapon was used to wound the victim.
Police will allege the trio broke into a home on Nimbin St, The Channon, on November 12, 2018 and assaulted the occupant with a metallic sharp-edged builder’s spacer.
Judge Jeffrey McLennan said he had no choice but to move the trial to Coffs Harbour District Court as the required social distancing for the three accused, their legal teams, witnesses, court staff and jury members could not be upheld in the Lismore District Court.
All three defence lawyers had objected to the relocation because the accused each had limited funds because they receive government welfare payments and wouldn’t be able to afford the required accommodation for the eight-day trial.
But Judge McLennan said he’d had his associate contact several hotels and when he calculated the costs each accused would have to pay $30 a night, or “the price of a packet of cigarettes”.
The three men’s bail conditions were altered to allow them to have contact with each other as they will be sharing a room at Coffs Harbour.
Meanwhile, the alleged victim, who lives in Geelong, will also have to travel to Coffs Harbour for the trial after concerns were raised that he couldn’t give evidence via video link.
The court heard Thomas O’Brien’s defence team would require the victim to mark pieces of evidence and he could not do that if he was in Victoria.
Judge McLennan said while he had concerns about a potential COVID-19 transmission, the accused had every right to a fair trial.
“I really don’t want an outbreak of COVID-19 being traced back to the Coffs Harbour court over a trial I’m presiding over,” he said.
“But if it’s going to result in an unfair trial, (the victim) should get up here soon and he should get tested.”
The Crown will cover the cost of the victim’s travel and necessary accommodation, the court heard.
The trial will be held at Coffs Harbour District Court on August 17, and the matter will be briefly mentioned again at Lismore District Court today to finalise any legal arguments ahead of the trial.