Ex-officer testifies in court that police rigged cases

AS FORMER Grafton police officer Stephen Bell celebrated the dropping of two charges of common assault against him at Grafton Local Court yesterday, his testimony that the charges were a "set up" at the hands of police were yet to make their full impact.

Mr Bell was first charged in June 2011 with assaulting a 16-year-old boy outside Grafton High School on November 29, 2010.

In October last year he was charged with assaulting a 12-year-old boy who had stolen goods from Big W, Grafton on April 7, 2011.

The determination of "reasonable force" was at the centre of both cases.

In dismissing the charge relating to the younger boy, Magistrate Jeff Linden was highly critical of the boy's testimony, which he said was unreliable and "loose with the truth" as proven by other witnesses.

It was alleged that Mr Bell pushed the boy hard against a wall inside an interview room at Big W after he refused to provide his name but, due to the unreliable and uncorroborated testimony of the boy, this was found to be untrue.

The boy's own mother described him in court in June as a pathological liar.

The former senior constable, who was a domestic violence and youth liaison officer with Grafton police, told the court he had been contacted by Grafton High School staff to patrol the school on the afternoon of November 29, 2010 because, according to student sources, "trouble" was expected.

A series of fights between students and non-students had been occurring outside the school during that period, the court heard.

When he arrived at the scene at about 2.50pm, the court heard Mr Bell said hello to two young males before telling them to "piss off" because the school was expecting some kind of trouble.

When the boys didn't move, Mr Bell said, he told them again before a 16-year-old boy allegedly told him to "f--- off, I heard you the first time".

The boy, who is now 18, told the court yesterday he did not swear and nor was he a "smart alec", but testimony from another young male at the scene corroborated Mr Bell's evidence of swearing.

Mr Bell said a group of young children, aged 8-10, were within earshot of the offensive word so he decided to take action and arrest the young man.

Whether Mr Bell "dragged" or "led" the boy to the police car was disputed by both sides of the argument.

Mr Bell was accused of pushing the boy against the car before asking for his identification.

Whether Mr Bell said "if you speak to a copper like that, you'll be sat on your arse", or, as the young man described it, "do you want me to knock you out in front of your friends?" was also at either side of the case.

Mr Linden questioned the place of the words "piss off" and "be sat on your arse" in 2012 policing, describing them as more suited to the Kings Cross in the 1960s.

Nonetheless, he said, Mr Bell was justified in taking action against the young boy for offensive language in the presence of children - the question, he said, was whether the force used was excessive.

In dismissing the charge, Mr Linden said, based on the evidence presented, that he could not determine what degree of force was used which created a "reasonable doubt".

Mention of corruption

A complaint about the Big W assault was made late last year by Constable Chatky who, in a statement, said that Mr Bell had used more force than he would have used in lifting him up and placing him against a wall.

Under questioning from a Director of Public Prosecutions prosecutor, who asked not to be named, Mr Bell told the court the charges, particularly those brought by Const Chatky, were offensive and were part of a "set up" orchestrated by officers, other than Const Chatky, that Mr Bell had previously complained about.

He offered the court the file numbers of the corruption complaints he had made against officers, including one officer who allegedly accepted alcohol from a publican. Further testimony along this line was shut down by Mr Linden and he made no criticisms of the police investigation.

Outside the court, Mr Bell, who was medically discharged with full honours in August after a 14-month suspension, said he was relieved at the result but disappointed it ever made it to the courts. "The verdict really vindicates that I didn't do anything wrong and that the legal system does work," he said.

The Daily Examiner asked questions of NSW Police Media about the accusations made in court and received the following response: "NSW Police is reviewing the judgement."

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