Court’s blow to ICAC Ryde Farce

BY OUR SENIOR COURT REPORTER

Five years after ICAC’s decision to pursue Ryde councillors and community members opposed to the controversial “Ryde Civic Centre” fiasco, a magistrate has dismissed three of its key allegations.

At a committal hearing in Downing Centre Local Court last Thursday businessman John Goubran was cleared on blackmail charges and former Ryde mayor Ivan Petch was consequently also cleared on accessory charges.

Magistrate Beverley Schurr ruled ICAC’s centrepiece allegation, used to justify its Ryde investigation, fell short of the requisite standard of proof, with the prosecution case flawed with major inconsistencies.

The supposed plot, according to ICAC, involved a threat to ex-Ryde Council GM John Neish’s job if the Civic Centre proposal was not delayed until after the September 2012 council elections.

But Magistrate Schurr found a fatal flaw in the allegation was the inability to establish an offence under NSW law which amounted to influencing Neish’s exercise of public duty, as he did not have the necessary delegations.

The prosecution case was already in disarray after much of its evidence was ruled inadmissable by Magistrate Beverley Schurr, following 200 separate challenges to evidence by legal representatives for both Mr Goubran and Mr Petch, last October.

Mr Goubran could not be reached for comment but his solicitor, Stefano Laface, said it was unacceptable for ICAC to have wasted time, resources and taxpayer funds in pursuit of an innocent man for five years.

“Justice has now been served, but not before Mr Goubran had endured significant mental anguish and unsubstantiated attacks on his reputation,” he told The Weekly Times.

“ICAC fought every attempt I made to obtain evidence it knew would show Mr Goubran was completely innocent.”

Counsel for Mr Goubran, Maurice Neil QC, had told an earlier hearing that “as little as five per cent” of one key witness’ evidence was admissable and the court had been “dumped with a massive amount of material held by a tribunal not bound by the rules of evidence. It shouldn’t happen.”

The latest court decisions as ICAC’s Ryde prosecutions draw to an end add to its woes after councillors it wrongly accused of breaching electoral donation laws in a three-year process, were found by the NSW Electoral Commission to have no case to answer in a process lasting just 60 days.

Mr Petch was also cleared over allegations of misconduct in public office over the release of information relating to porn downloaded on former Ryde Council GM John Neish’s council-issued computer.

Magistrate Schurr found that information was not confidential and could have been publicly disclosed in any conduct review process if Neish had not avoided sanction by resigning and negotiating a “deed of separation”.

“ICAC’s misstep with its Ryde affair is a very unfortunate chapter in its recent history and now a real court, with rules of evidence, has confirmed its allegations were baseless,” Mr Petch told The Weekly Times.

“Members of the public deserve the highest level of transparency from government and I’ve never represented a political party, bureaucrat or special interests in my councillor and mayoral roles, only the people who elected me.

“They deserve to know what really happened leading up to Neish’s resignation and a court has now confirmed this.”

He said ICAC attempted to bury the matter by pressuring Petch to hand over any remaining copies of CDs containing evidence of the porn downloads.

IVAN PETCH former mayor of Ryde celebrates with his daughters who supported him at the inquiry. TWT on-the-spot PHOTO.