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How a party became a riot and ended in a rout

PARTY DAMAGE: Two cars were torched and this second police vehicle that was pelted with bricks, pavers and bottles.
PARTY DAMAGE: Two cars were torched and this second police vehicle that was pelted with bricks, pavers and bottles.

IT IS Valentine's Day, 2010 and extra police are headed to Yamba to ensure crowds get home sober and safe from a country music concert.

Little do they know that in the back streets of an industrial estate, a party for a 16-year-old girl will soon erupt into one of the ugliest nights of their careers.

A call from a security guard who is concerned a gathering of between 50-60 people is gaining momentum, leads two officers and their patrol car Yamba 32, to a property at Fairtrader Drive.

Empty beer bottles are strewn about and the bulk of party-goers appear to be teenagers.

A man introduces himself as Craigh McNeill, tells police the property belongs to his wife, confirms he is in charge and agrees to call the station if the party gets out of hand.

Hours pass and police return to find the crowd has swelled to between 80-100 and many of the young people appear to be affected by alcohol.

Mr McNeill assures police the party-goers are "all good kids" who have grown up together and he "won't let it get out of hand".

Soon after police return again and this time Mr McNeill tells them it's not his property and passes them a handwritten note which reads something to the effect of "please leave the property".

They stress that the music needs to be turned down and leave.

By 2am police have received several noise complaints and when they return the property they are told to leave.

What happens next would later become a source of contention between officers, partygoers and their legal teams.

100 intoxicated teens gathering around

ACCORDING to police, Mr McNeill goes and grabs a bucket, hands out pavers and bricks and announces he is going to play "private games on private property" and police have 10 seconds to leave.

Mr McNeill's son Dylan walks over and places the bucket at the wheel of the police car.

Around 100 intoxicated teenagers are gathering around.

Police stand their ground, Mr McNeill yells "let the games begin" and hours of madness begin.

The windscreen of the police wagon is smashed, Mr McNeill is arrested and placed into the back.

For whatever reason, Dylan jumps in too and police close the door behind both of them.

But they don't stay there for long.

A cascade of bricks, pavers and bottles are hurled in their direction, police fear the McNeills are in danger in the car and they are released.

As the NSW District Court would later hear, "they are powerless".

Suddenly, Yamba 32 catches fire and pandemonium ensues.

Mr McNeill and several others are eventually arrested and driven to the Grafton station where they are refused bail.

'Life changing stint in jail'

AS THE party makes headlines around the state, Mr McNeill begins a "life changing" stint in jail.

After three unsuccessful bail applications, he is released in August on the condition he live at Woolgoolga with his brother and not contact his son.

Two months later, Mr McNeill, Glen Ayres, Robert "Robdug" Harvey, Jesse Marsden, Dylan McNeill, Jay Winter, Jarrod Wilson, Matthew Newell, Douglas Pearce and Courtney Walker front court charged with various offences including inciting violence.

The trial is part heard and adjourned until March.

In April, Magistrate John Andrews finds that there is not enough evidence for the accused to be convicted and allows all six adults and four juveniles to walk free.

The acquittal sparks community anger.

Clarence MP Steve Cansdell describes the decision as "piss weak" and is later forced to publicly apologise.

Civil claim against NSW police

ALMOST a year goes by and the acquitted six, along with the McNeill family, launch a civil claim against the NSW Police Force.

The NSW District Court hears an entirely different version of events from the McNeill's legal team which alleges police brutality, racial vilification and reputational damage.

Mr McNeill insists he did not incite the behaviour and attempted to put out the fire.

He alleges he saw police assault Douglas Pearce and an officer called him a c*** before inflicting five to six blows from an officer at the scene.

He describes Pearce "squealing in pain" in the back of the police car which was apparently being driven "roughly" for the entirety of the trip between Yamba and the Grafton Police station.

Once at the station, Mr McNeill allegedly hears "a thud" and one of his children's high school friends also being called a "c***".

His lawyer tells the court Mr McNeill suffered a black eye.

Almost immediately gaps appear in Mr McNeill's evidence.

Asked to describe where he had been "punched" by a police officer, Mr McNeill describes an injury to his cheek.

He is shown a picture of a mark on his face he tells the court it is a result of the punch.

When it's put to him that he appears to have the same mark on his face to this day, Mr McNeill says the mark may actually be a mole or a "little cut from a pimple".

He also agrees that when he was asked by a duty officer at the Grafton police station whether he was "suffering any illness or injury" on the night of his arrest, he replied "no".

There is evidence before the court that Dylan claimed to have been threatened by police and told that he could expect to be "raped up the a***" on his first night at Grafton jail.

The court hears the claim was made well after the acquittal and only once civil proceedings had begun.

The court also hears a phone recording between Robdug and Mr Pearce during which the pair discuss Mr McNeill's suggestion that if they claim to have been raped in prison, "it's an extra 100 grand".

Mr McNeill is asked whether he told his daughter's boyfriend he would get more money if he made that claim to which he replies - "as a joke, yes".

The case is adjourned after Mr McNeill is confronted with the statements of 107 people who attended the party.

He is asked how many of those support his story and replies "I don't believe there's any".

On Tuesday, May 13, all claims are settled in favour of the police.

The McNeills and their friends are ordered to each take out a half page ad in the newspaper apologising to the police for the damage caused.

Coffs/Clarence Superintendent Mark Holahan says the case has had a devastating impact on the local force but is grateful it is finally finished.

"The finalisation of these matters reflects the very good job the police performed on that night in trying conditions as well as the subsequent thorough investigation," he says.

"It was a situation police anywhere in Australia could be faced with at any time and we have always maintained they did the right thing.

"I am relieved the truth has finally come out."

Topics:  court editors picks party police riot yamba



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