Xavier Rudd cleared of assault after beach 'dog rage'
IT was a perfect morning in the dog walker's paradise of New Brighton beach, marred by an ugly confrontation between strangers over two unruly dogs with a bad reputation.
A confrontation which ended in court - with Byron Shire based musician Xavier Rudd, the owner of the dogs, defending an assault charge.
Rudd was today cleared of that charge in Byron Bay Local Court, but reminded by a magistrate that the incident could have been avoided if his dogs were property restrained.
The court heard that Rudd was walking his dogs on the morning of November 9 last year on the popular beach.
His two cattle dogs were known to another group of regulars on the beach that day - but not in a good way.
One of them, Heather Wales, confronted him about the problem.
She told Rudd her dog was afraid to go down to the beach when his dogs were around.
Ms Wales began to use "colourful" language: "Her tone was angry, she was frustrated with him, and she was effectively letting him have it," according to Rudd's barrister Sophie Anderson.
Another man, 63-year-old James Liston, was with his wife on the beach walking their German Shepherd, Shadow.
He saw Ms Wales berating Rudd and strode over to get involved.
He had a similar poor opinion of Rudd's ability to control his dogs.
In a case of fatefully poor timing, one of Rudd's dogs then nipped or snarled at Shadow.
Mr Liston lost his temper, in his own evidence, telling Rudd: "Your dog just f**king attacked our dog, (and) you and your dog I would like to get off the beach now".
In Rudd's account, Mr Liston was so angry that his spit was hitting Rudd in the face while he was shouting at him.
It wasn't disputed that he was very close to Rudd's face - just 20-30cm away.
There were different accounts of what happened next - in one version, Rudd suddenly "lunged" forward and pushed him.
In another, Rudd turned away as if to ignore the verbal abuse - before about-facing and shoving Mr Liston with an open palm.
In Mr Liston's account, he then stumbled back "two to three metres" and eventually fell to the beach, hyperventilating.
In other witness account, he didn't fall to the sand until later - until Rudd had already walked away.
At some point later, Rudd returned, and said: "That was totally unacceptable behaviour (on Rudd's part), can we talk about it".
Mr Liston subsequently uttered the memorable line that: "I''m going to own your f**king house".
Police later charged Rudd with assault.
In deciding Rudd's fate this morning in the Byron Bay Local Court, Magistrate Michael Dakin said he needed to weigh up whether Rudd was being "hostile" or in fact "defensive".
Rudd's barrister Sophie Anderson had previously argued Rudd's response was "proportionate to the threat".
"My submission is he was angry and aggressive and he posed a threat in that moment to Mr Rudd."
"It isn't as if he punched Mr Liston… he pushed a man who was in his face."
But police prosecutor Nathan Lockett argued Rudd "lost his cool" and pushed Mr Liston unnecessarily.
"(Mr Liston) was an angry man, to be sure, but anybody could see that he was not a physical danger to the defendant, certainly not to the extent that he needed to initiate physical contact."
Magistrate Dakin said it was undisputed that Mr Liston was aggressive toward Rudd prior to the shove.
"I'm satisfied that Mr Liston reacted in a very aggressive manner and indeed was between 20-30cm from Mr Rudd's face, waving his finger in his face," he said.
Magistrate Dakin ultimately concluded the hostility was "equal on both sides".
He said when Rudd pushed Mr Liston it was "with the view to move him from his position".
However, he had some stern words about Rudd's dogs.
"Regrettably this incident could have been easily avoided if the dogs were properly restrained in the first place," he said.
"It's not the first time there's been an issue with other beachgoers with Mr Rudd's dogs on the beach."
The charge was dismissed.
But a costs order sought by Ms Anderson was unsuccessful, meaning Rudd will have to pay his own legal bill.
Outside court, Rudd said this: "It's a beautiful day, and there's lots of people doing great things in the world," before strolling out of the courthouse precinct towards Main Beach.