He’s my hero

Kristian Bolwell is my hero.

Last July, he was dining at the Cooper’s Arms, a quite swankily done-up pub on the corner of Hordern Street and King Street in Newtown. Police arrived with sniffer dogs and proceeded to execute a sniffer-dog search of everybody present. Not exactly a pleasant turn of events when you are dining out, even if you have nothing to fear.

As Mr Bolwell later said:

“There were eight police and they sealed off the entrances, most stood by the doors and looked fairly mean….A group of them had one guy [Lee Besford] surrounded and it looked to me like they were being intimidating, so I asked if he needed legal advice.”

Mr Bolwell is a solicitor. He said he showed his solicitor’s identity card at the time.

Police weren’t happy about that. They never are. They hate witnesses, to coin a phrase. How can they go about their lawful business of harrassing and intimidating people on a random basis pursuant to their powers to execute sniffer-dog searches if pesky solicitors start popping up and offering people legal advice?

They knocked Mr Bolwell to the ground and pinioned him face-down, arrested him and charged him with hindering police, resisting police in execution of their duty and failure to obey a police direction.

Mr Bolwell sustained a cracked rib.

Senior Constable McCulloch, Constable Jones, Constable Healey, Constable Meyer and Constable Dunn [remember those names and smile and go quietly if you see them!] were all present at the hotel and testified during the trial at the Downing Centre.

During her testimony, Constable Dunn said Mr Bolwell “pushed past” police to approach Mr Besford and appeared “mildly intoxicated”. [Doh! He was at the pub!] Constables Chandler [who did not give evidence], Healey and herself all warned him to move away, she said, but he refused – claiming he was a solicitor. Constable Dunn said she saw Constable Healey trapped between some chairs and the accused – at which time Constable Healey tried to push Mr Bolwell away. But she said that Mr Bolwell resisted by using his body weight to push against Constable Healey. However, Constable Healey said Mr Bolwell “eased past him” and approached Mr Besford.

Local Court Magistrate Dr Gabriel Fleming found that there were inconsistencies in the evidence and that the security footage which was also tendered offered insufficient evidence that police were hindered from doing their duty. Subsequently all charges were dismissed and the police were ordered to pay Mr Bolwell’s legal fees.

I can’t say I would have had the courage to do what Mr Bolwell did. But then, unlike Mr Bolwell, I am not a former Greens parliamentary staffer and campaigner against arbitrary use of police powers, including random sniffer-dog searches like this.

Mr Bolwell has indicated he may be taking further proceedings against the police. This may be harder than beating the charges, because when you are a defendant to criminal charges you only have to raise a reasonable doubt, whereas to bring a civil case for assault or wrongful arrest the burden is considerably higher – you have to prove your case on the balance of probabilities and (in general terms) the police are allowed quite a lot of leeway – you have to establish that they acted without reasonable cause. It’s rare that anyone has a victory of the sort that Adam Houda had, and even in that case we haven’t heard that it has hurt the police officers’ careers at all.

Acting Superintendent of Newtown Local Area Command, Superintendent Matt Appleton, said:

“Dog operations are a legitimate and appropriate policing strategy [….] We are looking to attack the problem of drugs in the community and to keep the community safe.”

Greens MLC Sylvia Hale renewed her call that the police stop using sniffer dogs for random raids. You can read the ombudsman’s 2006 report about the use of sniffer dogs here. Quite apart from the points the ombudsman makes about proportionality and efficiency of these raids, you have to ask whether the success such raids achieve is worth the price of rubbing everybody’s noses in their helplessness in the face of the might of the state, personified by bullying police. I guess my views on this are reasonably clear.

3 Responses to “He’s my hero”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Good one M, this is a really good demonstration of the odious symbiosis of power and fear. He didn’t fear them, or at least contained his fear, and they had no power over him. Actually, one can bring ignorance into the equation as well, as it is likely that without his knowledge of the law he wouldn’t have taken the action he did. Power feeds from ignorance and fear. Think Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk.

  2. The Rabbit Says:

    What’s needed is more sniffer dogs and fewer lawyers.

  3. Neil Says:

    The Rabbit may have a certain Beagle in mind: I gather (or so Wikipedia says) “Beagles are used as sniffer dogs for termite detection in Australia, and have been mentioned as possible candidates for drug and explosive detection…”

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