SHOCK: Stanthorpe's damaged Christmas tree. LEFT: The front page of the Stanthorpe Border Post's December 20 edition.
SHOCK: Stanthorpe's damaged Christmas tree. LEFT: The front page of the Stanthorpe Border Post's December 20 edition. Liana Turner

Stanthorpe's Christmas tree vandals face court

IT WAS a crime that rocked the community and overshadowed our Christmas spirit.

But the genuine remorse showed by two young adults has earned them mercy in court.

Isaac Andrew Hartley-Simpson, 19, and Carol Bethany Ciacico Fraser, 24, both faced Stanthorpe Magistrates Court yesterday morning charged with wilful damage.

Both had apologised publicly for their involvement in the incident, where the intoxicated duo left Stanthorpe's Christmas tree severely damaged in the early hours of Sunday, December 18. They both lodged formal guilty pleas yesterday, which was their first court appearance since the incident.

Magistrate Bevan Manthey said reparations sought for the tree initially totalled $7000, but as the ornament, owned by the Southern Downs Regional Council, could be repaired, that was withdrawn.

Mr Manthey took into account significant character references along with their public apologies.

Duty lawyer Clare Hine was representing Fraser and said her client was a volunteer at Lifeline.

Fraser was joined in court by her parents and former councillor Denise Ingram.

Hartley-Simpson's lawyer, Dorothy Switala told the court her client was drunk when he damaged the tree, and regretted his actions.

"He was intoxicated,” she said.

"He conceded he acted in a foolish and reckless way.”

Ms Switala said Hartley-Simpson, a third year apprentice for a flooring company, had already faced consequences in the form of the public's response to the incident.

Both lawyers suggested a good behaviour bond and no recorded conviction would be appropriate.

Mr Manthey said while he was often faced with apologies in the court, they rarely came close to the sincerity apparent in this matter.

However, he warned the duo, who had no criminal history, not to re-offend.

He acknowledged Hartley-Simpson and Fraser had faced consequences outside of the court, namely in the form of shame within the community.

"I've been doing this court a long time and I see a lot of people come through the courts,” Mr Manthey said.

He said the "genuine remorse” shown by both offenders was unique, and he took this into account in sentencing both Hartley-Simpson and Fraser.

Mr Manthey recalled sitting in a nearby cafe and admiring the tree after it was erected, then his shock when it was damaged.

"It is a small town,” he said.

"(There was) outrage in the community at that time...they were pretty upset.

"So they should be, at Christmas time, to do that to the tree.”

He said they had both rectified their actions, and noted a letter from the Stanthorpe and Granite Belt Chamber of Commerce acknowledging this.

"They live in this community, they're part of this community and no doubt they are suffering and have suffered a great deal of shame in regards to this,” Mr Manthey said.

"They've got no history and they've got their futures in front of them.

"I hope they move forward from this and learn from it.

"They've done more than enough in trying to rectify the situation.”

Hartley-Simpson and Fraser were mostly silent in court, and accepted Mr Manthey's warning to avoid a repeat of the incident.

He handed both Hartley-Simpson and Fraser a 12-month good behaviour bond and no conviction was recorded.

Stanthorpe Border Post

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