By Deb Sorensen
DARWIN — An assault charge against Constable Simon Freson, who was accused of bashing political activist Shell 63 over the head with a long-handled police torch in January, has been dismissed.
What was referred to by Magistrate Dick Ward throughout the hearing over November 3-7 as the "alleged incident" occurred on January 28. That night Shell was walking through town when a police car drove by, then U-turned to pull up near him.
Shell says that one of the cops got out with his long-handled torch and approached him. Shell became intimidated as the cop brandished the torch, so he backed away. The cop, Simon Freson, told Shell he "wasn't going to hit him". Fearing that Freson was going to do just that, Shell fled.
According to Shell, after they both tripped during the chase, Freson eventually caught up with Shell and bashed him over the head with the torch. Freson was very angry and Shell, once apprehended, did whatever was demanded of him for fear he would be bashed again.
Freson's story is quite different. He told the court that Shell swore and cursed at him when he attempted to approach him, and that he was also sure Shell had been illegally putting up pro-East Timor posters.
He said that after tripping during the chase, Shell actively resisted being detained and they struggled for some time, including wrestling over guttering, the footpath and an unsealed car park. He did not offer any specific explanation for Shell's wound, which required seven stitches, implying that it had happened incidentally during the struggle.
Forensic evidence suggested that the torch or some other instrument capable of inflicting a clean blow was the "most likely" explanation for the wound. If it had occurred during a struggle on the ground or footpath, there would also have been scratches or grazing, which there weren't.
The magistrate also suggested that a blow with the torch was the most likely explanation for Shell's wound. However, he went on to say, that could not be proved "beyond reasonable doubt".
The cops had arranged various character witnesses to say what a nice bloke Freson is. It also came out that he was recently married and trying to pay off a house, although it's hard to say what relevance that had to the matter.
The magistrate went to lengths to explain that he and Peter Thomas — the watch commander on duty on January 28, who interviewed a bloodied Shell soon after the "alleged incident" — were good mates and that he didn't believe Thomas would say anything misleading. Thomas gave evidence from his memory of the unrecorded interview, during which Shell is supposed to have suggested that it might have been a radio that had been used to hit him.
According to Shell, Thomas' assertion was just one example of how the cops tried to portray Shell's evidence as inconsistent and confused.
The odds were stacked against justice, Shell told Green Left. While they had their character witnesses for Freson, and while the magistrate and watch commander were good mates, they portrayed Shell's reputation in a totally different light.
"They said I was well known for putting up posters; they called me a liar outright; they implied I was HIV positive and said that's why they had to clean and disinfect the bloodied torch straight away", Shell said.
"It was my word against Freson's; no-one else saw him actually bash me, so while I'm not really surprised the legal system has stuck together and dropped the charges against him, I suppose I was still hanging out for some skerrick of justice".