Goat free to eat grass: magistrate

IN CASE you missed it, a goat turned up to court this week after being caught by police munching on garden plants in Sydney’s Circular Quay. Really.

Last August comedian James Dezarnaulds was charged with destroying vegetation without authority and fined $440 after his pet goat, Gary, chomped on flowers outside the Museum of Contemporary Art.

Mr Dezarnaulds’ lawyer, Paul McGirr, argued that police had wrongly fined the comedian, aka Jimbo Bazoobi, because the infringement related to a person and not to a goat. “Gary’s not a person,” Mr McGirr told Downing Centre Local Court.

On Wednesday, magistrate Carolyn Barkell dropped the charge, saying there was no evidence Mr Dezarnaulds brought Gary there with the intention of vandalising vegetation.

“He may have preferred to have an ice cream,” she told the court, which at times erupted into fits of laughter.

The magistrate cancelled the fine but dismissed Mr Dezarnaulds’ bid for the crown to pay his legal costs.

Media circus ... Gary the goat has made international headlines after police caught him eating plants in central Sydney. Picture: Bob Barker

Media circus … Gary the goat has made international headlines after police caught him eating plants in central Sydney. Picture: Bob Barker

Outside court, Mr Dezarnaulds told a throng of waiting reporters he was happy that Gary’s name had been “cleared of all this slander” and that the charge was an abuse of common sense and the law.

He said Gary had taught the police a valuable lesson: “don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

The goat made no comment on the outcome.

It is unclear at this stage whether police will charge Gary with public urination after a mishap outside court.

Picture: Laura Tunstall

Picture: Laura Tunstall

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‘Controlling’ fiancee to stand trial for murder

A SYDNEY man accused of tossing a woman he described as his “life” off a 15th floor balcony has been committed to stand trial for murder.

Simon Gittany, 39, allegedly dropped his fiancee, 30-year-old Canadian woman Lisa Harnum, over the balcony of their rented luxury apartment in Sydney’s CBD on July 30, 2011. He has pleaded not guilty to murder.

After a week-long committal hearing, magistrate Clare Farnan today found in the Downing Centre Local Court there was enough evidence for a jury, properly instructed, to convict Mr Gittany of the crime.

The court was shown CCTV footage of Mr Gittany putting his hand over his fiancee’s mouth and “very violently” dragging her back into their apartment after the couple had argued and Ms Harnum tried to leave. A minute and eight seconds later Ms Harnum had plummeted to the pavement 15 storeys below.

A witness, Joshua Rathmell, was on his way to work through Hyde Park the morning Ms Harnum died when he heard screams coming from The Hyde apartment building on Liverpool Street.

Giving evidence from New York via audio-visual link, Mr Rathmell told the court he heard a male voice screaming in a “deranged” and “incomprehensible” manner.

When Mr Rathmell looked up at the building he saw a man “unloading” or “dropping” a black object over the balcony ledge. He initially thought that object was a “piece of luggage or a black duffel bag”.

It was Ms Harnum’s body.

The court also heard Ms Harnum had received abusive text messages from her fiancee, who prosecutor Daniel Noll said was a “very controlling and jealous and domineering” partner.

Mr Noll said the couple had been fighting the previous night because Ms Harnum wanted to leave Mr Gittany and return to her native Canada.

On the morning of her death, their arguing had escalated to a point where Ms Harnum was heard screaming “help me, help me, please God help me” and banging on neighbours’ doors. The prosecution alleges that Mr Gittany became so enraged that he carried Ms Harnum to the balcony and dropped her over the railing.

Text messages tendered to court show Mr Gittany told Ms Harnum to keep her phone next to her “always” and to listen to him “all the time”.

“Who the f… do you think you are walking around the house like you own it or coming and going without my permission?” he wrote on April 16, 2011.

A ripped-up note found inside Ms Harnum’s pocket the morning she died read: “There’s surveillance cameras inside and outside the house”. The court heard Mr Gittany had installed pinhole cameras in the apartment and that Ms Harnum kept the hand-written note in her pocket to “warn people”.

In a statement, Ms Harnum’s personal trainer, Lisa Brown, said the only time Ms Harnum was allowed to leave the unit “was to go grocery shopping”.

Mr Gittany told police that his fiancee ran on to the balcony and climbed the railing on to a narrow ledge and that he was just trying to save her from falling.

His barrister, Anthony Bellanto, QC, said Ms Harnum was at a “low ebb” and took her own life.

But magistrate Farnan rejected it was suicide. “There was no evidence Ms Harnum was suicidal, in fact, there is evidence she was not,” she said.

As the magistrate handed down her decision in front of a packed courtroom, Mr Gittany stood in the dock and said: “I’m not guilty and I reserve my defence.”

He will stand trial later this year.

"Possessive" ... Simon Gittany will stand trial for the murder of his fiancee, Lisa Harnum. Picture: Edwina Pickles (left)

“Possessive” … Simon Gittany will stand trial for the murder of his fiancee, Lisa Harnum. Picture: Edwina Pickles (left)

Accused who threw fiancee 15 storeys ‘deranged’: witness

A WITNESS heard a man screaming in a “deranged” and “incomprehensible” manner before seeing the man toss what he thought was a suitcase off a 15th floor balcony, a Sydney court has heard.

That “piece of luggage or a black duffel bag” was the body of 30-year-old Canadian Lisa Harnum. Her fiancee, Simon Gittany, allegedly threw her over the ledge following an argument. He has pleaded not guilty to her murder.

At a second committal hearing today to decide if Mr Gittany, 39, stands trial over her death, a witness, Joshua Rathmell, told Downing Centre Local Court he was walking through Hyde Park on his way to work on the morning of July 30, 2011, when he heard screams coming from The Hyde apartment building on Liverpool Street in Sydney’s CBD.

Giving evidence via audio-visual link from New York, Mr Rathmell told the court: “I believed it to be a male voice … it was deranged, incomprehensible.”

Mr Rathmell said he looked up at the building and saw a shirtless man “unloading” or “dropping” a black object over the balcony. He initially thought that object was a piece of luggage or a duffel bag.

But when Mr Rathmell got closer and saw people rushing towards the outside of the building, he “started coming to the conclusion it’s not a black object, but it was in fact a human being.”

As passers-by tried to revive Ms Harnum who had plunged from the 15th floor and was lying unconscious on the ground, Mr Rathmell saw the same man he had seen on the balcony – this time wearing a white shirt – walk towards her body.

He observed him “openly mourning, obviously very shocked” with his hands over his face.

Mr Gittany admitted to police that he and his fiancee were fighting that Saturday morning, but says that she ran on to their balcony and climbed the railing on to a narrow ledge. He told detectives he was just trying to save her from falling.

The hearing continues before Magistrate Clare Farnan.

Simon Gittany arrives at court. Picture: Edwina Pickles

Simon Gittany arrives at court. Picture: Edwina Pickles

Man threw fiancee off balcony: court

A COURT has been told a female voice screaming “help me, help me, please God help me” could be heard moments before a woman fell to her death from a Sydney balcony.

Canadian woman Lisa Harnum died after falling 15 storeys from the balcony of her high-rise CBD apartment. Her fiancee, Simon Gittany, is charged with her murder after allegedly “causing her to fall” off.

At a committal hearing today to determine whether there is enough evidence to commit Mr Gittany to stand trial, Downing Centre Local Court was told a neighbour heard arguing and a woman’s screams coming from the rented Liverpool Street apartment Ms Harnum, 30, had shared with her partner the morning she died on July 30, 2011.

Mr Gittany proposed to Ms Harnum less than two months earlier. He has pleaded not guilty to her murder.

The court was shown CCTV footage of Mr Gittany, 39, putting his hand over her mouth and “very violently” dragging her back into the apartment after she tried to leave.

A minute and eight seconds later, he’s seen rushing out the door shirtless while Ms Harnum lay dead on the pavement outside. Mr Gittany returned briefly to the apartment to put on a shirt and then took the lift down to the ground floor.

A 15-year-old boy who witnessed Ms Harnum land on the ground spoke to police at the scene, but his parents did not give permission for him to make a formal statement.

The officer heading up the investigation, Detective-Sergeant David Weekes, told the court the boy looked up and saw a male standing on a balcony halfway up the building.

“The male was not wearing a shirt,” Det Sgt Weekes said.

No traces of Ms Harnum’s fingerprints were found on the balcony ledge.

Magistrate Clare Farnan was told the case depends largely on the evidence of one witness, who saw Mr Gittany throw what he thought was a suitcase off the balcony.

That witness is due to give evidence tomorrow when the hearing resumes.

Mr Gittany declined to speak to waiting media outside court.

Allegedly thrown off the balcony ... Lisa Harnum.

Allegedly thrown off the balcony … Lisa Harnum.

Peter Slipper in trouble … again

A MONTH after a Federal Court judge cleared him of sexually harassing a former staffer, Peter Slipper is embroiled in yet another scandal, this time for allegedly misusing a government Cabcharge card.

The Australian Federal Police yesterday issued the former parliamentary speaker with a summons to face ACT Magistrates Court in relation to three offences of “dishonestly causing a risk of a loss to the Commonwealth”.

The AFP alleges that on three separate occasions in 2010 when he was a coalition MP, Mr Slipper used a taxpayer-funded hire car to visit half a dozen wineries and restaurants. The trips cost $1194.

Mr Slipper falsely filled in four Cabcharge dockets describing trips as “suburbs to suburbs” and “Parliament House to suburbs”, police allege. MPs can travel at government expense only if they are undertaking parliamentary, electorate or official business.

If convicted, Mr Slipper will be disqualified as an MP because the offences are punishable under the law of the Commonwealth by imprisonment for one year or longer, according to section 44 of the constitution. The maximum penalty is five years’ jail.

The constitution states that if an MP is disqualified, they are entitled to a refund of their superannuation contributions without interest, but to no other benefit, meaning Mr Slipper won’t receive his yearly retirement pension of about $157,000 for the rest of his life, Fairfax reports.

If Mr Slipper is disqualified from parliament this could place Julia Gillard’s minority government under pressure, but it is unlikely it would fall. Labor currently sits on 76 votes to the Coalition’s 74.

It comes after a Federal Court judge threw out a sexual harassment case against him brought by former staffer James Ashby.

Mr Ashby claimed he had received “unwelcome sexual advances, unwelcome sexual comments and unwelcome suggestions of a sexual nature” while working as Mr Slipper’s aide and media adviser in early 2012. Mr Slipper stood aside from the speakership last April after sexually explicit text messages he had sent were published.

In a scathing judgment last month, Justice Steven Rares dismissed the claims, finding it was a “planned political attack” and an “abuse of process”. It is understood Mr Ashby will continue to pursue his sexual harassment case, taking the matter to the Fair Work Commission.

Mr Slipper will appear in ACT Magistrates Court on March 25 where he will be formally charged.

Fighting on ... James Ashby. Picture: Ross Schultz

Fighting on … James Ashby. Picture: Ross Schultz

Never far from controversy ... former federal speaker Peter Slipper has been summonsed by the AFP. Picture: Glen McCurtayne

Never far from controversy … former federal speaker Peter Slipper has been summonsed by the AFP. Picture: Glen McCurtayne

‘Urban terrorist’ Paul Peters jailed for 10 years over hoax collar bomb

"Happy it's nearly all over" ... Madeleine Pulver arrives at court.

“Happy it’s nearly all over” … Madeleine Pulver arrives at court.

THE last time Madeleine Pulver sat in the same room as Paul Douglas Peters, it was that terrifying day in August last year.

Today in the Sydney District Court, she watched the man who terrorised her in her own home for 10 hours get jailed for at least a decade.

Sentencing Paul Peters to a maximum of 13 and a half years behind bars, Judge Peter Zahra described the crime as “heinous” and said the terror instilled in Maddie was “unimaginable”.

Then 18, Maddie was alone in her Burrawong Avenue home in Mosman when, armed with a baseball bat and wearing a rainbow balaclava, Peters, then 51, entered the closed but unlocked door.

What happened next set a precedent for crimes in Australia and made headlines around the world: Peters strapped a black metal box to the schoolgirl’s neck with a bike chain while she sat crying on the floor, fearing for her life. He left a note on the device demanding money and told Maddie to, “Count to 200, I’ll be back … if you move I can see you, I’ll be right here.” Peters then fled.

After a 10-hour ordeal, the device was confirmed to be a fake.

Soon a strike force, headed up by the robbery and serious crime squad, was established. Police had begun looking into the Gmail account left on the extortion note and with assistance from Google, detectives were able to track where the account had been set up and accessed from. They seized computers from Kincumber Library on the NSW Central Coast and from an Avoca Beach video shop. CCTV footage and registration details of a gold Range Rover, together with a credit card used to buy a baseball bat from an Erina Rebel store, led police to the home of Peters’ ex-wife Debra in Louisville Kentucky, where he was staying. They had their man.

Peters was extradited back to Australia, charged and pleaded guilty to aggravated break and enter and detain for advantage, meaning Maddie would not have to give evidence in court. This also meant Peters would receive a 25 per cent discount on his sentence for sparing the court a lengthy and costly trial. The maximum sentence Peters could have received was 15 years, as opposed to 20, had he not entered a guilty plea.

L to R: (brother) Angus Pulver, (father) Bill Pulver, Madeleine Pulver, (brother) Harry Pulver, (mother) Belinda Pulver, (boyfriend) Angus  Wood

L to R: (brother) Angus Pulver, (father) Bill Pulver, Madeleine Pulver, (brother) Harry Pulver, (mother) Belinda Pulver, (boyfriend) Angus Wood

During sentencing hearings, the District Court heard Peters had begun writing a novel – one half of his job, he told detectives – and tracking down the beneficiary of a multi-million dollar US trust, known as the James M Cox Trust, who lived in Mosman. He had intended to extort money from this person and not from the Pulver family, the court was told.

While researching this beneficiary, Peters came across a man he had known from his time in Hong Kong and changed his target.

But on the quiet afternoon of August 3, Peters “simply got the wrong house” in a crime Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen described as “an act of urban terrorism”. He didn’t appreciate the layout of the respective houses, the court heard.

Peters’ defence barrister Tim Game, SC, argued that the attack on Ms Pulver was the result of a delusion he was the lead character in the novel he was writing, and a combination of bipolar disorder, heavy drinking and depression. Peters told psychiatrists he had deliberately planned the crime poorly so he could be caught and be given treatment, the court was told.

But Judge Peter Zahra rejected this, saying that Peters planned and implemented the attack with precision and knew exactly what he was doing.

“At the time of placing the device he had prepared around the neck of the victim he would have appreciated the enormity of what he was doing and the terrible effect and consequence of his conduct upon the victim,” Judge Zahra said. “He proceeded regardless.”

“The victim was vulnerable. She was on her own studying for her trial Higher School Certificate examinations. She was entitled to the sanctuary of her home.”

Paul Peters, a father-of-three and once a wealthy businessman, wept in the dock as the judge recounted his life, from the breakdown of his marriage to the loss of his career and large sums of money.

Maddie and her parents also sobbed as the judge handed down his sentence before a packed courtroom, which included the detectives who arrested Peters and constable Karen Lowden, one of the first police officers on the scene who risked her own life to sit with Maddie and provide emotional support to her during the ordeal.

Outside court, accompanied by her parents Bill and Belinda, a brave and composed Maddie faced a throng of journalists who attended the sentencing.

“I am pleased with today’s outcome and that I can now look to a future without Paul Peters’ name being linked to mine,” Maddie told reporters.

“I realise it is going to take quite some time to come to terms with what happened, but today was important because now the legal process is over,” she said.

“For me it was never about the sentencing, but to know that he will not reoffend, and it was good to hear the judge acknowledge the trauma he has put my family and me through.”

“It has been a surprise to me that this year has been much harder than last year, but I am lucky enough to have a wonderful family and friends and we are all making great progress.”

“Looking forward, I’m heading to Sydney University next year and really looking forward to it,” she said. Asked what she will be studying, Maddie replied: “I’m not really sure yet but I’m thinking a Bachelor of Arts.”

With time already served in custody, Peters will be eligible for parole in August 2021.

He never offered an explanation for his actions.

Ordeal over ... Madeleine Pulver speaks to the media.

Ordeal over … Madeleine Pulver speaks to the media.

– Evan Zlatkis