New angles on Gympie council land rights 'invasion' case
FINAL UPDATE: 5.30pm Friday, May 24
VARYING perspectives and possibly the passage of time meant a range of differing evidence yesterday in the Gympie District Court trial of three land rights activists.
Wit-boooka (charged as Gary Tomlinson, 53, of Southside), Djaki Widjung (Diane Redden-King, 61 of Curra) and Djaa 'mee Gular Djan du Kabi (Mervyn Alfred James Tomlinson, 54, of Bundaberg) have pleaded not guilty to charges of assault, assault with bodily harm and forcible entry to cause "reasonable fear” to Mayor Mick Curran, all on May 31, 2016.
The court heard evidence from council infrastructure services director Dimitri Scordalides, that he did not recall receiving the shove in his chest which Cr Curran said had prompted the mayor's own blow to Wit-boooka's face.
Customer Contact Centre co-ordinator Janet Laing told the court of the violence which broke out in the call centre area where she was in charge.
She said Wit-boooka had held the mayor against a glass partition, while Mr Scordalides, council CEO Bernard Smith and another staff member were trying to assist the mayor.
"There was a lot of pushing and shoving and the mayor was being held up by the throat against the glass,” she said.
Retiree Gary Guest took video, which he also supplied to The Gympie Times "so people could see the other side of the story.”
Customer contact officer Samantha Cowan said she saw a man who had come in saying, "I'm taking control of the council, I'm the new mayor.”
"There was so much commotion going on.”
The mayor "seemed to be in a bit of strife” when he "threw a punch with a "closed fist.”
She also saw Mr Scordalides receive "a body push” in the chest, but not a shove.
Corinne Lewis, who worked in an adjacent office said she recalled Redden-King announcing she was filming, but Mervyn Tomlinson "didn't say anything” in her recollection.
UPDATE: 2pm Friday, May 24
GYMPIE District Court has given a new perspective on events in the Gympie Regional Council's Mary St call centre three years ago, when land rights activist Wit-boooka told staff they were being evicted from what he said was his land.
Council infrastructure services director Dimitri Scordalides told the court he had no recollection of being shoved in the chest, as Mayor Mick Curran said he was, during a confrontation involving him, council CEO Bernard Smith, Mayor Mick Curran and Wit-booka, who had hold of each other's forearms.
The four of them were "locked” in a "square,” he said.
Mr Scordalides said he had looked away towards staff members, whose welfare was his primary focus, when there was a sudden "escalation” in the scuffling that was taking place.
He became aware immediately afterwards of Wit-boooka, charged as Gary Tomlinson, having blood on his face.
Cr Curran has given evidence he struck Wit-boooka in the face with an open palm, but only after seeing Wit-boooka strike Mr Scordalides in the chest.
Mr Scordalides said he had no recollection of being shoved.
He had earlier given evidence of bruising, including in the pectoral area, but under cross examination said he did not recall any shove at the time of the confrontation which preceded Wit-boooka's injury.
"There was no shove to your chest or anything like that that you can recall,” Wit-boooka's barrister, Tony McAvoy asked Mr Scordalides during cross-examination.
"No,” Mr Scordalides said.
"You have no recollection of being shoved by anybody?”
"No,” Mr Scordalides said.
UPDATE: 11.45am Friday, May 24
GYMPIE Regional Council infrastructure services director Dimitri Scordalides has told Gympie District Court this morning of significant bruising from a violent incident at the council's Mary St offices.
After the event in 2016 he found he had "multiple bruises” on his legs and chest and later visited a doctor for a check-up as a result.
He told the court how he and council CEO Bernard Smith had found themselves facing each other from their positions on either side of Mayor Mick Curran and Wit-booka, who is charged as Gary Tomlinson, 52, of Southside.
Wit-boooka and co-accused Mervyn Alfred James Tomlinson, 54, of Bundaberg and Diane Patricia Redden-King have all pleaded not guilty to the charges against them.
Mr Scordalides told the court Cr Curran and Wit-boooka had each other by their arms and were locked together while he and Mr Smith attempted to keep them apart.
There was "a sudden escalation and movement and it is then I noticed (Wit-boooka) had a blood nose.
Wit-boooka had grabbed the Mayor by the throat and staff members were trying to pull him off the Mayor.
"About that time there was a stalemate, when police arrived.”
Soon afterwards, there was "a police officer down on the ground and Wit-boooka on top of him.”
Cr Curran and a couple of electrical contractors helped and "we assisted in getting cuffs on (Wit-boooka).”
The case continues before Judge Bernard Porter today.
UPDATE: Thursday 4.10pm
A GYMPIE District court judge has issued a stern warning to the media and the public after "inapropriate interference” with the jury appointed to hear the Gympie Regional Council land rights invasion case.
Judge Bernard Porter warned that publishing pictures of jurors was potentially a criminal offence, as well as a breach of the Jury Act and a contempt of court.
"We have already had, whether intentionally or not, an inappropriate interference with the jury,” Judge Porter said.
Anyone filming a jury should consider the consequences, he said.
"It is not illegal to film a jury but it would be an offence to publish the film,” he said.
Yesterday, in a separate matter, he explained in front of the jury that he had decided that one juror had to be excused because of a difficulty, meaning it was fortunate two replacement jurors had also been sworn in.
He said the law provided that the choice between the two, a man and a woman, had to be decided by lot, which included a range of options
He said he would propose a particularly Australian solution.
"We'll toss for it,” he said. "We'll let the lady call.”
She called "heads,” won the toss and was appointed as the replacement juror.
UPDATE: Thursday 2.30pm:
GYMPIE Region mayor Mick Curran has given evidence he was not the first to strike a blow during a violent struggle with Aboriginal land rights activists at the council's Mary St offices three years ago.
Cr Curran said he had struck one of the activists, but only after he saw the activist hit a senior council officer in the chest.
The activist, Wit-boooka, charged as Gary Tomlinson, 52, of Southside, is charged with forcible entry onto council property in a way which caused Cr Curran to reasonably fear violence.
He and co-accused, Mervyn Alfred James Tomlinson, 54, of Bundaberg and Diane Patricia Redden-King, 61, of Curra, are also charged with entering the council property unlawfully, three counts of assaulting Cr Curran (one of them with bodily harm) and assaulting a police officer in the course of the officer's duty.
The jury has now also seen video recordings of the incident, including council CCTV which has Wit-boooka saying "I'm evicting youse; this is our country” as he stood on the counter to climb over it.
"If you don't want any trouble, move out onto the footpath,” the video shows him saying.
It then has audio of shouting and crashing from a room where the camera could not get vision.
Cr Curran said he was in his office on May 31, 2016, when the council's call centre supervisor knocked on his door, saying help was needed in the call centre, which was not a public access area.
"I could hear yelling... but I could not tell what was being said.
Cr Curran said he had repeatedly told Wit-boooka to leave, being "as calm as I could, extending my right arm to guide him away.
"He struck my forearm with his left hand and continued to say we had to leave.
"I saw Mr Tomlinson strike Dimitri Scordalides in the chest.
"I then struck Mr Tomlinson in the face with the palm of my hand,” he said.
The case continues.
UPDATE Thursday 10am:
A GYMPIE District Court jury has begun forensic examination of video recordings made during a land rights demonstration that turned violent at Gympie Regional Council's Mary St office, almost three years ago.
Council CEO Bernard Smith told the court of tense moments during which he tried to de-escalate a physically violent situation which was like nothing he had experienced before.
Before the court are Aboriginal land rights activists Wit-boooka (charged as Gary Tomlinson, 52, of Southside), Djaa 'mee Gular Djan du Kabi (charged as Mervyn Alfred James Tomlinson, 54, of Bundaberg) and Djaki Widjung (charged as Diane Redden-King, 61, of Curra).
They have pleaded not guilty to a total of 18 charges, including one of forcible entry to council property, causing "reasonable fear to (Gympie Mayor) Michael William Curran.
Eight of the charges are against Wit-boooka, who is accused of assaulting five people including Mayor Cr Curran, Mr Smith, infrastructure services director Dimitri Scordalides, then-Senior Constable Daven Bruce Richards and Diana Elizabeth White.
The other two are also accused, with Wit-boooka, of assaulting Cr Curran and causing bodily harm.
They are represented by barristers rated in Doyle's Guide as three of Australia's top Native Title lawyers - Terry McAvoy QC (for Wit-boooka), Andrew Preston (for Mervyn Tomlinson) and David Yarrow, for Diane Redden-King).
Under cross-examination, Mr Smith agreed his conduct could be described as "playing Switzerland” by seeking to be a non-combatant and to help restore calm.
He had been positioned between Cr Curran and Wit-boooka and agreed Mervyn Tomlinson might have been in a similar situation and had "adopted a passive position throughout the melee.
"He was certainly not being aggressive and was probably the meat in the sandwich then,” Mr Smith said.
"He was certainly, for most of my observation, not being aggressive.”
He described an incident in which "a tall person,male” had entered the building "wearing a bright top and a flag around his shoulders.”
He had become aware of two other non-staff members.
TRIAL TWIST: New Gympie jury sought in land rights case
"He was being very vocal, talking about his right to be there. He was in a slightly agitated state.
"I think everyone was taken aback by what was happening.”
"I asked him to leave. He said I had no authority to. He became more worked up, leading him to push my shoulder.
"I was getting more and more concerned about his state of mind. He became more agitated, continuing to talk in a raised voice.
"He is fairly imposing in stature when close to you. The push on my shoulder made me very concerned there was something else coming.
"I became more concerned he was going to strike me.”
Cr Curran had been close behind him.
"About that time the mayor struck him and a fracas followed from there.”
Under cross examination, Mr Smith said he recalled the mayor punching Wit-boooka and did not believe Wit-boooka struck back.
He rejected a suggestion that the shove he experienced occurred "after the punch (by the mayor)”
"With respect, I refute that strongly,” he said.
Gary Tomlinson had "shoved the mayor into a partition... there was a bit of an entanglement (and) a flurry of arms and legs.”
Mr Smith said his "main goal was to separate the two.”
Police had then arrived and when they moved to arrest Wit-boooka, "he said he did not recognise police authority to arrest him.”
"The mayor (moved) to help and I ended up providing some assistance to one of the police.
"They (the demonstrators) refused to physically co-operate, pushed back and kept resisting.
"The situation came under control and they were taken away,” he said.
The incident began about 11.30am when Wit-boooka entered a staff area, a call centre.
"He had things in his hand and in general terms was talking about the council being evicted.”
The case continues today before Judge Bernard Porter.
EARLIER Wednesday 5pm: Trial told Mayor threw first punch, split protester's nose
A "PRE-EMPTIVE punch" by Gympie Region Mayor Mick Curran was identified yesterday as central to both the prosecution and defence case at the Gympie District Court trial of three Aboriginal land rights activists.
The three are charged over events during a protest and alleged invasion of Gympie Regional Council's Mary St offices almost three years ago.
The long-awaited trial began with opening addresses from Crown Prosecutor Ryder Reid and three of Australia's leading Native Title barristers, Tony McAvoy QC (representing Wit-boooka, charged as Gary Tomlinson, 52, of Southside), Andrew Preston (for Djaa 'mee Gular Djan du Kabi, charged as Mervyn Alfred Hames Tomlinson, 54, of Bundaberg) and David Yarrow (for Djaki Widjung, charged as Diane Patricia Reddden-King, 61, of Curra).
TRIAL TWIST: New Gympie jury sought in land rights case
"We're evicting you," Mr Tomlinson is alleged to have told council staff that day.
"If you don't want to be in any trouble, you can move out to the footpath."
Mr Reid said this occurred after Mr Tomlinson had jumped the counter.
This was followed by a warning about being "hurt" and a statement that "We are re-asserting..."
Mr Tomlinson then entered a staff-only area and shouted at staff to get out and that "he was the new Mayor," he said.
Mr Tomlinson pushed a female employee, causing her to bump her head and pushed another staff member "with such force it caused a bruise," the court was told.
It heard the Mayor and council CEO Bernard Smith entered the room and Mr Tomlinson pushed Mr Smith in the shoulder.
This was followed by the Mayor "pre-emptively punching" Mr Tomlinson, who then pushed Cr Curran against a glass partition.
This was the basis of a charge against all three because the other two "were all aware of what he was doing."
The court heard Mervyn Tomlinson then joined in to protect Gary Tomlinson, and Gary Tomlinson "manoeuvred Cr Curran's arm against a door with such force it caused cuts," the basis of a charge of assault with bodily harm.
The first police officer on the scene was met with "ferocious force," causing a bruise to the torso. This was the basis of a charge of serious assault on a police officer in the execution of his duty, the court heard.
Ms Redden-King was charged because her presence and her actions in video recording the event and distributing pamphlets encouraged Gary Tomlinson, Mr Reid said.
Other video, including council CCTV footage, would also be produced and 32 witnesses would be called.
Defence submission began with Mr McAvoy telling jurors there were "critical points in time" including "the moment when my client and the others entered the council building and the moment my client was struck by Mick Curran "with such force it split his nose and caused him to bleed profusely."
Mr Preston said Mervyn Tomlinson had been acting to protect Gary Tomlinson.
"The Mayor, as it has been described, pre-emptively punched Gary Tomlinson in the face.
"No-one was hit in the face and no-one was bleeding until the Mayor got involved," he said.
Mr Yarrow said the case against Diane Redden-King was one of "aiding or encouraging the offending," but he asked jurors to note what she was doing, which involved "distributing pamphlets and recording footage."
The question was whether she was "aiding and encouraging or merely on the sidelines," he said.
The case is continuing.