Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Pyrrhic victory for the AFP

Their victims got only a slap on the wrist while the AFP got a $10,000 costs award against them! I hope the cops concerned have received "advice". And will the quarantine officer be disciplined for illegally seizing passports?

AN elderly couple have been cleared of obstructing Commonwealth officials after a fracas at Perth International Airport. The incident resulted in the Australian Federal Police arresting the man and throwing him head first into the back of a police van.

Magistrate Catherine Crawford acquitted Neville Willsea, 72, of the obstruction charge this afternoon at a trial at the Perth Magistrates Court. His 70-year-old wife, June Willsea, had also been charged with the same offence but it was dropped at the start of the trial.

However, Magistrate Crawford found the couple guilty of disorderly behaviour after they raised their voices and swore at staff in the customs hall of the Perth International Airport in May, 2010.

The retired couple, who have been together for about 50 years, spend the majority of each year living in Bali, and the court heard they had made the trip from Denpasar to Perth about 25 times.

During the trial, several witnesses told the court Mr and Mrs Willsea became agitated during an argument with a quarantine officer as they went through customs after disembarking from a flight from Bali. An argument arose over a trolley, and the quarantine officer took the couple's passports from them, which they demanded back.

Two nearby Australian Federal Police officers heard the commotion and came over to try to sort the situation out.

Mr Willsea is said to have touched one officer on the chest with the back of his hand and put his other hand down to take hold of the officer's wrist.

The officer reacted immediately, and arrested Mr Willsea, throwing him to the ground and handcuffing him. Closed circuit television footage was played in court showing Mr Willsea being bundled into the back of the police van head first with one shoe on.

Commonwealth prosecutor Alan Troy alleged the pair acted in an "insulting, offensive, threatening" manner.

He also told the court Mr Willsea resisted the arrest and reached for a police officer's hand, which was near his gun, which Mr Troy said led to the officer handcuffing Mr Willsea. "[The officer] was not dealing with a small man," Mr Troy said in court. "He's dealing with someone who is agitated and angry."

Defence lawyer Laurie Levy argued that the quarantine officer who orginally confiscated the passports had no authority to take passports from Mr and Mrs Willsea, and they were entitled to react in the way that they did.

Mr Willsea gave evidence during the trial and claimed the quarantine officer was waving the couple's passports above her head before passing them onto a male colleague. He said he and his wife continually asked for their passports back but he denied swearing or threatening to jump over the counter, as police claimed. “I do not use profane language around women,” he said.

In sentencing, Magistrate Crawford said flights from Bali were considered high-risk for customs staff as many people did not declare goods they were bringing back into the country.

Magistrate Crawford found Mrs Willsea shouted loudly while demanding the passports back and verbally abused staff, saying to one she was a "disgrace", a "dickhead" and "not Australian".

She said she rejected evidence Mr Willsea gave during the trial that he had not sworn because he did not use profane language in front of females, and had used the word "f***" at least once.

"Each behaved in a disorderly manner which contributed loud noise and also caused disruption to the processing of passengers," Magistrate Crawford said. "It was Mrs Willsea's reaction, the shouting and the abuse, that escalated the situation. "There were a large number of people in the [customs] hall at the time."

The couple were each given a $500 conditional release order for six months. Magistrate Crawford recorded spent convictions for both.

She acquitted Mr Willsea on the obstruction charge, saying she found he was seeking help for his wife, who was becoming increasingly distressed, from the police officer and was not trying to grab hold of the gun.

"There doesn't appear to be any reason why matters could not have proceeded by way of summons rather than arrest," she said. The prosecution were ordered to pay $10,000 in court costs.

Outside court, a member of the couple's defence team said they were "very disappointed" with the result of the trial and Mr Willsea regretted the incident "deeply". "But, of course, they're very satisfied with the sentence that was imposed," he said.

"Her Honour took into account the treatment that [Mr Willsea] received at the hands of the relevant officers and the physical effects of that treatment in deciding to give spent conviction orders and good behaviour bonds.

"As I understand it, Mr and Mrs Willsea just want to go back to Bali and live their life as elderly, peaceful people as they have been all their lives."


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