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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

AUSTRALIA - Police intelligence on Queensland bikies poor, says lawyer as latest case dropped.

A lawyer has criticised the “poor quality” of Queensland police intelligence on bikie gangs after the collapse of another prosecution under contentious anti-association laws.

Charges against three accused Rebels bikies who were pulled over in a car on the Gold Coast – one of the first cases brought under laws passed by the former Newman government – were struck out in Southport magistrates court on Friday last week.

It means the laws – which mandate between six months and three years’ jail for any gang “participants” caught knowingly in public in a group of more than two – will go under the microscope of a government-appointed review without having secured a single conviction in 19 months.

It is the second anti-association case to be aborted after charges were dropped in April against librarian Sally Kuether, whose arrest for visiting a pub with her bikie boyfriend and his clubmate provided a high point of controversy under Newman’s bikie crackdown.

The Palaszczuk Labor government is poised to announce an independent taskforce to examine the anti-association laws and the related Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment Act (Vlad), which mandates an extra 15 to 25 years’ jail for gang crimes.

The prospect of the laws being overturned has prompted defence lawyers to seek to delay trials involving defendants who may have already spent months in solitary confinement under harsh prison conditions formerly reserved for accused bikie associates.

The laws were introduced by the Liberal National party government in October 2013 in response to a public brawl on the Gold Coast that was sparked by a love triangle involving a Bandidos bikie. They have had an unprecedented effect on outlaw motorcycle clubs, prompting blanket police scrutiny of a secretive subculture that has included men who have collectively amassed hundreds of years in jail time in recent decades.

However, solicitor Andrew Bale said the dismissal of charges against his clients on Friday represented the latest in a growing array of cases that showed “the quality of police intelligence is not up to standard”.

“The fact of reality is the intelligence material that police think they’re putting before the court, aside from generally being complete hearsay, is also of a very poor quality,” he said.

“I put [prosecutors] on notice that if they lost I was going to ask for costs.

“I suspect they didn’t want to throw good money after bad because they had really poor intelligence to prove these guys were members of the Rebels.”

Jamie Adams, Nathan Stewart and Zavia Scott were pulled over in a car in Southport on 21 October, 2013, days after the LNP passed the laws. The trio had been scheduled to go on a trial that was set to run over five days from 15 June. But a magistrate dismissed the charges after prosecutors entered no evidence.

None of almost 50 people charged under the anti-association laws has yet been convicted. But many of them were held in extended solitary confinement under a prison policy reserved for alleged bikie “participants” that was later abandoned.

Superintendent Mick Niland, commander of the police gang squad Maxima, set up under the LNP crackdown, defended the quality of intelligence produced since as “excellent”.

Niland said police knowledge of gang workings had increased “exponentially” in line with more informants and direct contact with bikies.

“With the commencement of Maxima, there was room for improvement on our intelligence holdings at the time,” he said. “It’s a secretive world because it’s organised crime, and it’s fluid: there’s movement in and out of the gangs.

“It provided the opportunity to increase our intelligence holdings of the motorcycle gangs and they have increased exponentially.

“It’s come around by three ways: an increase in human sources; increase in visitations to OMCG [outlaw motorcyle gangs] and frontline interactions with OMCG. The quality of that intelligence has been excellent.”

Convictions under the laws, section 60 of the criminal code, dictate compulsory jail time for bikies not only gathering in public but also attending clubhouses or recruiting.

The first person convicted under the separate Vlad laws last week – a cannabis trafficker from a syndicate unconnected to bikies – was spared an extra 15 years after he cooperated with police, the only way of avoiding the mandatory additional punishment.

Labor in opposition pledged to repeal Vlad and the anti-association laws. In government it has committed only to a review of the laws, although the attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, has flagged concerns with anti-association and mandatory sentencing that removes discretion from judges.