Charge dropped against protester
NIMBIN peace activist Benny Zable was yesterday awarded $1000 in costs after prosecutors dropped a trespass charge against him over a protest at Lismore’s Australia Day celebrations.
Mr Zable, 64, got into strife at the council’s official celebration at the Goonellabah Sports and Aquatic Centre on January 26 when he donned his well-known gas mask costume to protest against the controversial official ads used to promote the day.
The court was told Mr Zable was told to leave the aquatic centre by a council officer. He refused to leave voluntarily, but did not resist when he was escorted from the centre.
Police were called and, in the centre car park, told Mr Zable to leave the area. He again refused, saying he wanted to protest, and was arrested.
Mr Zable’s solicitor, Steve Bolt, told the court his client spent two hours in police custody over what was, at the most, a matter for a fine.
Mr Zable was charged with refusing to leave enclosed lands, but when prosecutors finally read through the brief of evidence yesterday morning and spoke to witnesses, they decided they had no case against him and dropped the charge.
Asking the court award costs to cover Mr Zable’s legal expenses, Mr Bolt told the court his client should not have had to wait four months for prosecutors to drop the case against him.
Magistrate Robyn Denes said prosecutors were not to blame for that delay, saying drastic understaffing made it impossible for them to review cases as quickly as they might prefer.
However, she also said prosecution staffing issues should not be Mr Zable’s problem and agreed to award $1000 in costs to cover Mr Bolt’s fees.
Ms Denes said that decision reflected on neither the police, who dealt with Mr Zable when he was arrested, nor on the prosecutors.
Lismore Local Court currently had only one full-time prosecutor, backed up by one part-timer, whose job it was to work through court lists, present cases in court, answer telephones in his office, and communicate with defence lawyers, people accused of crimes, complainants, informants and witnesses, she said.
Under those circumstances, the court’s police prosecutors could not be expected to review every case ahead of time and it was not surprising Mr Zable’s brief had not been read until yesterday.