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Man wins appeal against conviction on attempt to take liquor to Aurukun

A judge has quashed a conviction against a man police arrested for an alleged attempt to take 12 bottles rum into the designated alcohol-free zone of Aurukun Shire in far north Queensland.

Cairns District Court Judge Tracy Fantin on Friday granted Aelan Henry Woolla’s appeal against a Weipa magistrate’s decision to convict him of an offence under s168C of the Liquor Act 1992 (Qld).

The court was told the Act prohibits any person from attempting to enter a relevant restricted area – in this case Aurukun – if the person has in their possession more than the prescribed quantity of a type of liquor.

Judge Fantin, in her 13-page decision, said: “At about 4pm on 30 December 2020 police were conducting a patrol in the town of Weipa in Cape York.

“They stopped a four-wheel-drive vehicle in which Mr Woolla was a passenger. Police searched the vehicle and found alcohol concealed in it.

“When asked, Mr Woolla agreed that he intended to travel to Aurukun. Aurukun is approximately 200 kilometres or three hours’ drive from Weipa.”

After a summary trial in the Magistrates Court at Weipa on 22 March 2021, Mr Woolla was convicted, fined $600 and the alcohol forfeited.

During a hearing on 19 November 2021, Mr Woolla appealed the decision under section 222 of the Justices Act 1886 (Qld) in the Cairns District Court on the sole ground the magistrate’s verdict was unreasonable and could not be supported by the evidence.

“The appeal concerns a single issue: whether the evidence was sufficient to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Woolla attempted to enter a restricted area, contrary to s168C of the Act,” Judge Fantin said.

“I have concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Woolla was attempting to enter the relevant restricted area. The appeal should be allowed and his conviction set aside.”

Judge Fantin noted during the summary trial the prosecution called one police witness and tendered an audio recording of the officer’s interaction with Mr Woolla.

“Senior Constable Coppo gave evidence that he was working with another officer on 30 December 2020 conducting patrols targeting the transportation of liquor into remote Indigenous communities,” Judge Fantin said.

“At about 4pm on the Peninsula Development Road in Weipa, he intercepted a Toyota heading in an outbound direction in the direction of Aurukun.

“He spoke with the driver. His driver’s licence showed a residential address in Aurukun. He asked the driver where he was driving and he indicated Aurukun.”

The officers conducted a search of the car after seeing a “wine bottle box with a sheet over it” in the vehicle’s back seat and found 12 bottles of Bundaberg Rum in the box and secreted in the car’s engine bay.

During his evidence, Snr Const Coppo said Mr Woolla told him the reason for taking the alcohol to Aurukun was to commemorate the first anniversary of the passing of his son.

In granting Mr Woolla’s appeal, Judge Fantin said: “Mr Woolla was a passenger in a vehicle intercepted in Weipa. Police found alcohol concealed in the vehicle. Mr Woolla effectively took responsibility for the alcohol. He admitted that he intended to drink the alcohol in Aurukun.

“The township of Aurukun was approximately 200 kilometres and three hours’ drive away.

“Clearly, there was evidence of steps taken in preparation to take alcohol to Aurukun. Alcohol had been secreted in the vehicle. By that conduct, Mr Woolla had begun to put his intention into effect. But it was not sufficient evidence of an overt act to enter a restricted area.

“The conduct up to that point was by no means clear to someone watching it that Mr Woolla had the purpose of entering a restricted area some 200 kilometres and three hours’ drive away.

“The acts relied upon as constituting the attempt to enter were not acts immediately connected with the contemplated entry into the restricted area. In my view, they were too remote.

“There was insufficient evidence to prove beyond reasonable doubt conduct by Mr Woolla that was proximate or immediate to contemplated entry into the restricted area. There was no manifestation of the intention to enter Aurukun that was sufficiently proximate to the actual entry point to the restricted area.”

Judge Fantin allowed the appeal, set aside the guilty verdict and alcohol forfeiture order, and entered a verdict of not guilty against Mr Woolla.

Read the decision.

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