Sunday, April 27, 2008

Police bungle sees Chaser charges binned

ALL charges against members of The Chaser's War on Everything have been dropped because police gave them "tacit permission" to enter the security zone at last year's APEC summit, the Director of Public Prosecutions says.

New South Wales Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery QC said the group of 10 men and one woman from the ABC TV's satirical show would have a further defence open to them of being in the area for work-related purposes, because they had been following the directions of their executive producer, Julian Morrow.

Chas Licciardello, six crew and three hire car drivers had been charged with entering an APEC restricted area without justification, after driving a convoy of three cars into Sydney's multimillion-dollar high security zone on September 6.

Masquerading as a Canadian motorcade, the comedians and their crew passed though a number of security checkpoints to within metres of the Sydney hotel where US President George W. Bush was staying.

Comic Licciardello emerged from the vehicle dressed as Osama bin Laden.

The prank made international headlines, and the charges were set down for a two-week hearing in July at Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court.

Mr Cowdrey, who assumed responsibility for the case earlier this month, today announced the matter would not proceed.

Mr Cowdery said the circumstances of the case were "unusual" and his decision required some explanation.

"In the cases of all 11 accused, I am satisfied that on the evidence presently available the prosecution would not be able to negate beyond reasonable doubt the existence of an honest and reasonable - but ultimately mistaken - belief that they would not enter or be taken into the restricted area, and that, when they did enter it, it was with the permission of police," he said.

Mr Cowdery said police had offered tacit permission for the team to enter the secure zone by waving their motorcade through the checkpoints.

"Police permission, in fact, constitutes special justification for entry," he said.

"Accordingly, there is no reasonable prospect of conviction and for that reason the prosecutions should not proceed."

Mr Cowdery also said the team had been following the directions of Morrow.

"Morrow was directing the progress of all who were employed for the purposes of the stunt and they either followed or were swept along by the directions that he gave," Mr Cowdery said.

"I am also satisfied that, if the prosecution proceeded against Morrow only on the basis that his situation could be distinguished from the rest, the court would be bound to find that the motorcade entered the restricted area in error and, if the offence were otherwise proved ... it would be probable that a magistrate would dismiss the charge without conviction ... considering also Morrow's otherwise good character," he said.

"That would provide an additional discretionary basis for not proceeding in Morrow's case, in accordance with the Prosecution Guidelines."

The charges against Morrow, Licciardello, Nathan Earl, Giles Hardie, Lauren Howard, Geoffrey Lye, Alexander Morrow, Benson Simpson, Esteban Alegria, Mark Kordi and Rodrigo Pena will be formally withdrawn tomorrow.


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