Rioters cheered but many outraged

DOZENS of congratulatory messages had yesterday appeared on the Facebook page of Dylan McNeill, one of the six people who on Monday were cleared of all charges relating to the Yamba riot of February 14, 2010.

“Hooray for Mcneils,” and “you little ... ripper,” were just two of the comments posted by jubilant friends in support of Mr McNeill.

Less jubilant, however, were some community leaders who are wondering what kind of example the court ruling sets and how a case with such strong evidence in support of the prosecution, including video footage of cars being set alight and police officers being pelted with bricks, ended with a single noise abatement misdemeanour being proven (and subsequently also dismissed being a first offence) against Dylan's father, Craig McNeill.

Dylan and Craig McNeill, Glen Ayres, Courtney Walker, Robert Harvey and Douglas Pearce were in Grafton Court on Monday at the end of the six week trial, facing 34 charges including rioting, malicious damage to property by fire and affray.

However, Magistrate John Andrews dismissed the charges, ruling that evidence gathered by police during the investigation was too unreliable to convict the accused beyond reasonable doubt. A number of police actions during the investigation were questioned by the defence throughout the trial, including a debrief session held by the officers involved on February 17, 2010, before they prepared official statements.

The outcome has shocked many in the community including Member for Clarence, Steve Cansdell, who was seething yesterday after learning the trial's outcome.

“This is a total travesty of justice, I cannot believe it – there's no doubt the police car was burnt and that the police were pelted with bricks and stones and yet the people walk free. I just cannot believe how weak our justice system is,” Mr Cansdell said.

“This just sends a message that it is okay to abuse police officers and burn vehicles.”

Mr Cansdell also came out swinging in defence of the police officers involved and said the technicalities or errors in police procedure during the incident, which were targeted by the defence during the trial, needed to be put in context and take into consideration the fact the officers on the scene were in a situation where they were in genuine fear for their own safety.

“Through this whole trial it has been the police who have been on trial,” he said.

He said the ruling would likely undermine police authority, make their jobs more difficult and thereby increase the number of police officers on stress or sick leave, taking more police off Clarence Valley streets.

Mr Cansdell said he would be surprised if, “99 per cent of the community weren't outraged by the ruling” and said he would be pursuing any avenues to have the case appealed or re-tried.

Clarence Valley Council Mayor Richie Williamson also expressed concern about the message the verdict would send the community.

“I didn't hear all the evidence which was presented in court but in saying that I think the type of alleged behaviour from that night is something the community remains most concerned about – it's certainly something the community doesn't condone and certainly wouldn't support,” Cr Williamson said.

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