Browning prosecution comes unstuck

Wednesday, June 26, 1991

By Lara Pullin

CANBERRA — The trial of anti-apartheid activist Kerry Browning has now entered its third week.

Browning was originally charged with fire-bombing three cars belonging to US and South African embassies in 1988. After nearly three years of legal battles and a midnight to 6 a.m. curfew, Browning currently faces the lesser charges of being "knowingly concerned" with the fire-bombings, and a charge of "threatening" the US ambassador of the time.

The trial began on May 27, but the prosecution's opening statements were so appalling that Chief Justice Miles dismissed the jury and ordered that a new one be constituted. Justice Miles also ended the curfew placed on Browning two-and-a-half years ago.

With the trial under way a second time, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation appeared briefly via a QC to state that none of the information gathered by the spooks would be used in the case. Browning's house was placed under 24-hour surveillance, with listening devices planted in the bedroom and elsewhere throughout the house, and all comings and goings videoed.

A Coalition Against Apartheid spokesperson commented, "This involvement of intelligence organisations is very concerning, especially when they are not at all accountable. Now we have ASIO saying that despite hundreds of hours of surveillance, nothing will be used to help the prosecution's case — obviously because there is no evidence."

One of the more comical attempts by the Australian Federal Police to present "evidence" is the daily appearance of five boxes of garbage in the courtroom, allegedly taken from Browning's house three years ago. As the prosecution requires a piece of evidence, rubber-gloved police undertake futile searches through the garbage.

Other "evidence" has been ruled inadmissible. This includes such items as "hazardous chemicals" — a bottle of acetone, otherwise known as nail polish remover, and other common cleaning items.

Justice Miles also ruled inadmissible an Australian Government Printing Service publication, "The Diplomatic List", commenting that this was hardly incriminating — he possesses one in his chambers — and a novel given to Browning by her mother, alleged by the crown to be a terrorist manual.

The judge also rejected "handwriting evidence", which is crucial to the charge of "threatening" the US

ambassador.

This leaves the only other alleged evidence against Browning on this charge as one quarter of a fingerprint — already shown to have been identified by AFP before it was enhanced by fingerprint specialists for identification.

A spokesperson for Browning's supporters commented that they were encouraged by the acquittal of Tim Anderson. "There are a lot of similarities between these two cases: heavy reliance on police informants, fabrication of evidence and, of course, the political nature of the whole affair."

The trial is expected to continue for another three weeks.

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