Suspended Auburn Deputy Mayor Salim Mehajer leaves Burwood Local Court in Sydney after being cleared of charges of intimidation after allegedly threatening Bruce Herat, the father of Lindt Cafe siege victim Joel Herat.
Suspended Auburn Deputy Mayor Salim Mehajer leaves Burwood Local Court in Sydney after being cleared of charges of intimidation after allegedly threatening Bruce Herat, the father of Lindt Cafe siege victim Joel Herat. MICK TSIKAS

What a year: NSW's biggest stories of 2016

HE HIT the headlines for all the wrong reasons, but even a trip overseas could not keep him off the front page.

Controversy has dogged former Auburn deputy mayor and self-styled playboy Salim Mehajer since his lavish 2015 wedding that incensed Lidcombe locals.

It included four helicopters, a seaplane, a jet flyover, blocked-off streets and very upset neighbours.

Things got worse for the flashy property developer this year, with the New South Wales Government sacking Auburn City Council amid allegations of improper conduct.

A string of court cases followed, including a new investigation into Mr Mehajer's alleged involvement in electoral fraud.

Last month, A Current Affair aired footage of police detaining him on Spanish party island Ibiza after an alleged confrontation with a taxi driver.

But the most damning publicity came when that same television program broadcast video of Mr Mehajer screaming threats at his estranged wife, including a warning he would rape her parents.

Salim Mehajer was one of the biggest profile NSW name of 2016, but had plenty of competition.

Killer cops' comeuppance

CORRUPT killer cop Roger Rogerson lived up to his nickname "the Dodger" for decades, escaping prosecution despite being implicated in at least two killings and a swathe of other gangland crimes.

Once a poster child for proper policing, Rogerson received more than a dozen bravery awards, including one in 1980 for arresting armed robber Gary Purdey after he escaped from Goulburn Jail.

A year later, Rogerson shot and killed drug dealer Warren Lanfranchi, but was found to be acting within the line of duty.

 

Former Detective Roger Rogerson being led to a prison van at Sydney Supreme Court in June.
Former Detective Roger Rogerson being led to a prison van at Sydney Supreme Court in June. DEAN LEWINS

Lanfranchi's girlfriend Sallie-Anne Huckstepp rejected that notion, demanding an investigation and accusing Rogerson of corruption.

Her murdered body was later found in a Sydney pond, but no one was ever charged.

Rogerson's undoing began in 2014 when he and fellow police officer Glen McNamara murdered Sydney student Jamie Gao over a drug deal, shooting him twice in a storage unit and disposing of his corpse at sea.

The body was later found floating off Cronulla.

Rogerson and McNamara were given life sentences, although each claimed innocence and blamed the other for the murder.

Stalking the sea

IT WAS the year of the shark attack, or at the very least the year NSW got serious about keeping sharks away from busy beaches.

There were eight attacks in 2016, five of which resulted in injuries, but fortunately no deaths in NSW.

The short stretch of coast between Byron Bay and Ballina in the state's north was home to six of those attacks, prompting a heavy crackdown from the government.

Hi-tech catch-and-release drumlines, drone surveillance, satellite-linked shark listening stations and underwater "clever buoy" shark detection units were all deployed.

But it took the attack on a 25-year-old surfer at Ballina's Sharpes Beach in October to prompt the NSW Government to install nets.

 

Surfer Colin Rowland's surfboard was bitten in half during a shark attack at Seven Mile beach, Booti Booti, NSW.
Surfer Colin Rowland's surfboard was bitten in half during a shark attack at Seven Mile beach, Booti Booti, NSW. FACEBOOK

Trials of eco nets - designed to catch sharks but no other big sea creatures such as rays, turtles or dugongs - proved disastrous when they washed away from North Coast beaches.

So the more controversial Queensland-style nets were rolled out in December on a six-month trial.

Within two days of installation, five sharks had been caught including a 3.2m great white at the Sharpes Beach spot where the surfer was bitten in October.

Inquest drags on

THE findings of the long-running inquest into the Lindt Cafe siege are due to be delivered next year, after one of the most exhaustive investigations in New South Wales history.

Man Haron Monis took staff and customers at the Martin Place cafe hostage in December 2014 in a stand-off that ended with three people dead, including the gunman.

 

Sheikh Man Haron Monis, the gunman behind the Lindt Cafe siege, is seen here bound in chains and holding an Australian flag outside Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney in an earlier file photo.
Sheikh Man Haron Monis, the gunman behind the Lindt Cafe siege, is seen here bound in chains and holding an Australian flag outside Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney in an earlier file photo. SERGIO DIONISO

The 23-week inquest raised questions about what role the Australian Defence Force should play in hostage situations and why Monis had received bail, over several occasions, for 43 sexual assault charges and being an alleged accessory to his former wife's murder.

Hopes the findings would be handed down before Christmas were dashed when State Coroner Michael Barnes declared in September their delivery would "inevitably be in the new year".

The role Australia's spy agency ASIO played is unlikely to be made public due to issues their broadcast could raise for national security.

Socialite is accessory to murder

IT READ like a cautionary tale about the perils of drug abuse.

She had a privileged upbringing as daughter of former NSW Labor Premier Neville Wran, and was known as a Sydney socialite in her early adult years.

But Harriet Wran's descent into ice addiction ended with her pleading guilty in Sydney Supreme Court to being an accessory to the murder of small-time Redfern drug dealer Daniel McNulty in 2014, and robbing him of $650.

In sentencing her in July to four years jail, Justice Ian Harrison noted she had been a model prisoner during her time behind bars.

"She is currently drug-free, both in terms of illicit drugs and those formerly prescribed for the treatment of various conditions," he said.

Wran was released on parole in September after serving two years in prison.

Her former boyfriend Michael Lee was sentenced to at least 13 years and six months prison and Lloyd Edward Haines received an 11-year prison term.

Both men pleaded guilty to murder.

Festival drug deaths

MUSIC festivals were put on notice they could be shut down if organisers did not improve safety after a string of drug overdoses.

Police Minister Troy Grant issued the warning after a 23-year-old woman was taken to hospital in a critical condition after allegedly taking ecstasy at Field Day in Sydney on New Year's Day.

Punchbowl man Daniel Huynh, 26, was given a 12-month prison sentence in August for supplying two tablets to friend Sylvia Choi, 25, at the Stereosonic festival in Homebush last year. Ms Choi died after taking the drug.

 

Sydney woman Sylvia Choi collapsed at the Stereosonic Music Festival at Olympic Park after taking the drug ecstasy and later died in Concord Hospital.
Sydney woman Sylvia Choi collapsed at the Stereosonic Music Festival at Olympic Park after taking the drug ecstasy and later died in Concord Hospital. CHOI FAMILY

The string of overdoses sparked calls from drug campaigners and doctors for NSW to pilot pill testing tents at festivals, allowing punters to see what chemicals were actually in their drugs.

But the police and the NSW Government strongly rejected the push, saying the best way to avoid overdosing on illegal drugs was to refrain from taking them.

Father and son fugitives

THEY were two of Australia's most wanted men. Father and son Gino and Mark Stocco evaded police for eight years.

The duo had outrun authorities and been involved in a dramatic shootout before they were finally nabbed at a rural property near Dubbo in October 2015.

A search of the property revealed the decomposing body of its 68-year-old caretaker, Rosario Cimone.

Both men in June pleaded guilty to murdering Mr Cimone and two counts of shooting to avoid arrest and arson.

An attempting to murder police charge was dropped.

They are still awaiting sentencing, after which they are expected to be extradited to Victoria and Queensland to face more charges.

Domestic extremism

SOUTH-WEST Sydney student Ihsas Khan allegedly cut down Australian flags from his neighbours' houses before stabbing a man in an attack police said was inspired by Islamic State.

The 19-year-old has been charged with committing a terrorist attack and attempted murder but is yet to face trial.

Khan was not the only young person arrested over suspected terrorist plots in the state's capital.

Tamim Khaja, 18, has been ordered to stand trial for allegedly planning a terror attack and trying to buy a gun from an undercover police officer.

His trial was due to begin on December 16.

- ARM NEWSDESK



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