2017: A year in crime with spotlight on the media

News Corp Australia

MEDIA is supposed to cover the news, not make it. But it was a nightmare year for some journalists whose actions landed them in court.

Reporter Krystal Johnson and her employer Yahoo7 were punished after publishing prejudicial information a murder trial jury never saw. The young reporter was handed a two-year good behaviour bond without conviction - but Yahoo7 was fined $300,000.

In September, magazine publisher Bauer Media lost a defamation suit to actress Rebel Wilson. Litigious celebrities are common as muck but this was no ordinary lawsuit and spawned a $4.5million payout order, the biggest in Australian history. Bauer has appealed.

Rebel Wilson leaves the Victorian Supreme Court after winning her case, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Wilson Has won her case againstst Bauer Media, claiming defamatory print and online articles made her out to be a serial liar, costing her roles in Hollywood and tarnishing her reputation. (AAP Image/ David Crosling) NO ARCHIVING
Rebel Wilson leaves the Victorian Supreme Court after winning her case, Thursday, June 15, 2017. Wilson Has won her case againstst Bauer Media, claiming defamatory print and online articles made her out to be a serial liar, costing her roles in Hollywood and tarnishing her reputation. (AAP Image/ David Crosling) NO ARCHIVING DAVID CROSLING

Meanwhile, Ben McCormack, former A Current Affair journalist, pleaded guilty to using a carriage service to transmit, publish or promote child pornography. He'd described himself lusting after young boys in vile messages on a social network. He was fined $1000 and placed on a three-year good behaviour bond.

But, of course, there was plenty of other crime that made us click this year - mostly the downright tragic but there were some fascinating insights into other people's lives.

Innocent lives

Strong emotions stirred in Queensland this year for children and young women taken too soon. The plight of Moranbah 18-month-old Hemi Burke and the prosecution of his killer Matthew James Ireland was one such case. Ireland had faced a murder charge but against the wishes of Hemi's parents, that was downgraded to manslaughter. The babysitter was sentenced in June to eight years in jail but he could be released on parole in less than two years.

After being sentenced for his role in four-year-old Tyrell Cobb's death, a laughing Matthew Scown walked free in October. Child safety advocates Bravehearts dubbed the former Sunshine Coast and Gladstone man "a bloody monster". A prosecutor said Scown was at fault because he left it too late before seeking help for injured Tyrell.


Matthew Scown leaves the Supreme Court in Brisbane.
Matthew Scown leaves the Supreme Court in Brisbane. DAVE HUNT

He was sentenced to fours years behind bars but was released upon sentence, having served two years and eight months in custody. After a contested sentence for manslaughter, a justice found mother Heidi Strbak struck the fatal blow to her son. She was sentenced in December to nine years jail.

Unknown and unfit

Gatton schoolgirl Jayde Kendall's killer Brenden Bennetts was given life imprisonment. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter but offered no explanation why he killed the teen. Jurors heard Bennetts enjoyed choking former partners during sex and searched online for "the best way to dispose of a body" the day before Jayde vanished.

Student Eunji Ban's family travelled from Korea hoping to see justice done nearly four years after Alex Reuben McEwan was arrested. But jurors heard of McEwan describing demons and hallucinations, and the 23-year-old former Ipswich man was deemed unfit to stand trial. The murder trial heard McEwan might have treatment-resistant schizophrenia.



Shandee Blackburn was fatally stabbed a few metres from her Mackay house in 2013. Police charged Shandee's ex-partner John Peros with murder but in April he was acquitted after a trial. "Tears and utter desolation are a mere thought or moment away," Shandee's mum Vicki said in a speech the following month.

Cast of high-profile characters

Cardinal George Pell became the most senior Catholic to be charged with sexual offences. The 76-year-old faced Melbourne Magistrates Court in July over historical allegations, returning to Australia from his senior leadership role at the Vatican. He has vowed to fight every charge and has proclaimed his innocence.


Australian Cardinal George Pell.
Australian Cardinal George Pell. MASSIMO PERCOSSI

Charged Ipswich City Council alumni, staff and contractors became a frequent sight at Brisbane's arrest court after corruption-related allegations surfaced. Former mayor Paul Pisasale was arrested in June on charges including extortion. Contractor Wayne Francis Innes, chief operating officer Craig Maudsley, chief executive Jim Lindsay, former CEO Carl Wulff, Ipswich lawyer Cameron McKenzie, and barrister Sam di Carlo also faced various charges. Their cases remain before the courts.

Former Auburn deputy mayor Salim Mehajer had a dramatic year, even by his standards. The Sydney property developer's court hearing for allegedly assaulting a taxi driver was delayed after he was injured in a car crash. In October, he threatened to out-do Rebel Wilson's defamation case, proposing a $103 million suit against several media firms. Drama continued in December, when he denied breaching bail by breaking a nightly curfew and emailing estranged wife Aysha Learmonth.

Great Bali escapes

Western Australia's most infamous export this year was a cheeky fugitive who burrowed his way out of a Bali prison, leaving authorities in the dust. Shaun Edward Davidson would have been free in August but declined to wait, tunnelling out of Kerobokan in June. The WA man and three other foreigners escaped through an old sewage tunnel.

Fellow Perth man Thomas William Harman spent more than three months in prison after stealing a pair of $435 designer sunglasses from a Bali duty free shop. The 31-year-old was sentenced in November to the time he had already served after a judge found him guilty. Harman's lawyer Erwin Siregar said he had searched the internet and discovered the particular sunglasses could be purchased for $242 and his client had offered to pay back twice this amount. Mr Siregar represented Schapelle Corby after her 2004 arrest on marijuana trafficking charges, as well as members of the Bali Nine and most recently Byron Bay woman Sara Connor, who was convicted over a role in the death of a Kuta police officer.


Australian woman Sara Connor during her trial at Denpasar court in Denpasar.
Australian woman Sara Connor during her trial at Denpasar court in Denpasar. RONI BINTANG/AAP

Connor, 46, and her British lover David Taylor were charged with murder but were later convicted of group violence causing death. Taylor received six years in jail for the Kuta beach death while businesswoman and mother of two boys Connor was sentenced to four years for her role. It was increased to five years on appeal.

Mysteries resolved, decades later

Ending decades of Brisbane underbelly rumours, a man once called the "Angel of Death" was found guilty of murder in May, 43 years after Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters vanished. Justice Peter Applegarth told 78-year-old Warwick's Vincent O'Dempsey he was a cold-blooded killer who was beyond redemption but O'Dempsey proclaimed to the court he was innocent of the crimes.


Garry Dubois (left) and Vincent O'Dempsey, sitting in the dock, in relation to the 1974 murders of Brisbane sisters Vicki and Leanne McCulkin and the manslaughter of their mother Barbara.
Garry Dubois (left) and Vincent O'Dempsey, sitting in the dock, in relation to the 1974 murders of Brisbane sisters Vicki and Leanne McCulkin and the manslaughter of their mother Barbara.

Co-accused Fraser Coast's Garry "Shorty" Dubois was convicted of murdering the two girls but the manslaughter of their mother. Justice Applegarth told him he had no conscience and was a coward. He said it was clear Mrs McCulkin knew enough about each man's role in the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub bombings for them to want to silence her. Both have lodged appeals. No bodies have been found.

Don't do drugs

A meth-addicted syringe-wielding attacker who threatened strangers in Brooyar State Forest evoked memories of horror flick Wolf Creek. Gympie's Luke Raymond Watts was jailed in August, having attacked two strangers enjoying a previously relaxing break at Glastonbury Creek campsite.

Who needs to win lotto when you can make $3.2 million selling ice? Sunshine Coast drug boss Rebecca Teresa Castner lived the high life, gave her minions free rent and drugs, and supplied two of her children with drugs. But the ice queen faced a come down in July, sentenced to 10 years in jail.

A dramatic set of synchronised dawn raids targeted up to 32 homes across Sydney in August, with about a dozen arrests. John Ibrahim's brothers Michael and Fadi were extradited from Dubai after arrests in an alleged organised crime bust. And Dutch authorities in July seized drugs allegedly bound for Australia in shipping containers. John has not been charged with any offence and is not suspected of involvement in the alleged drug plot.

Melbourne car attacks shock nation

The threat of terrorism was at the forefront of many Australian minds at the start and end of the year, when a car was driven into pedestrians in Melbourne's CBD.

Two children, two women and four men lost their lives on January 20 in the "Bourke Street Mall massacre'".
Accused killer Dimitrious Gargasoulas, earlier this month, pleaded not guilty to six charges of murder and 28 of attempted murder. Police ruled out terrorism as an alleged motive.

Less than a week after Mr Gargasoulas entered his pleas before a Melbourne judge in December, a man in a four-wheel-drive allegedly ploughed into pedestrians near Flinders Street Station, injuring 19 people including two children.

The accused driver, Saeed Noori, was quickly arrested with police revealing the 32-year-old had "drug" issues and mental health problems.

Police claim Mr Noori had talked about the "treatment of Muslims", but it was unlikely the alleged attack was politically motivated.


One man planned to pack a bomb filled with "military-grade" explosive in the luggage of his unwitting brother who was to become a "mule" to carry it on-board a flight, police have alleged.

In August, police revealed new details of the alleged plot to bring down a commercial Etihad flight from Sydney to Abu Dhabi. Police believe two separate attacks were being planned under the direction of a senior figure in the Islamic State in Syria including one to hide a bomb inside a meat mincer and another inside a large Barbie doll. The NSW Joint Counter Terrorism Team charged a Lakemba man Khaled Mahmoud Khayat, 49, and Punchbowl's Mahmoud Khayat, 32, with two counts each of acts in preparation for a terrorist act.

Police gunned down Islamic State-inspired shooter Yacqub Khayre, 29, after he shot dead a man in the foyer of serviced apartments in Brighton, Melbourne, after taking a sex worker hostage. Three police officers were injured in the shootout with Khayre, who was born in Somalia but spent some time in a Kenyan refugee camp before moving to Australia with his grandparents as a child.

One punch can kill

Coward punches were in the spotlight when Armstrong Renata was sentenced for killing Cole Miller, 18. "We lost our best one," Cole's dad Steven said of the impact the 18 year-old's death had on his family.


Two men faced court over 18-year-old Cole Miller's death.
Two men faced court over 18-year-old Cole Miller's death. FACEBOOK

Renata, 23, was jailed on the relatively new charge of unlawful striking causing death. As a spate of coward punch cases made news, Mr Miller called for Australia to address violence problems. Co-accused Daniel Maxwell, 21, walked free on an 18-month suspended jail sentence for his lesser role in the death.