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NSW police drop claim that protest involving Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco blocked ambulance

NSW police drop claim that protest involving Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco blocked ambulance

Police have backtracked on their claim that a climate protest on the Sydney Harbour Bridge last year blocked an ambulance with its sirens running from responding to an emergency, an assertion repeatedly referred to in the jail sentence of demonstrator Deanna “Violet” Coco.

On Tuesday Alan Glover and Karen Fitzgibbon, two of the four people co-accused of blocking the bridge during a climate protest last April, appeared before the Downing Centre local court for sentencing over the protest.

Magistrate Daniel Reiss sentenced each of them to an 18-month community corrections order and a $3,000 fine over the protest.

But agreed facts tendered as part of the case revealed that the New South Wales police now concede that “no ambulance was obstructed from responding to an emergency as a result of the incident” during the April protest.

The statement differs from a set of facts tendered by police during Coco’s case last year, which saw her sentenced to 15 months in prison with a non-parole period of eight months. She has launched an appeal against the sentence.

During that case, NSW police alleged the demonstration “not only caused serious disruption to peak-hour traffic” but also “prevented an ambulance responding to an emergency under lights and sirens as it was unable to navigate through the increased heavy traffic”.

“This imposition to a critical emergency service has the potential to result in fatality,” the police alleged at the time.

The removal of the claim in Glover and Fitzgibbon’s matter was questioned by Reiss, who asked why the police had taken a “contradictory position”.

Police prosecutor Ernest Chan told the court that the ambulance was “no longer pressed and hence it was removed from the agreed facts”.

Reiss asked whether the fourth co-defendant, Jay Larbalestier, who last year received an intensive corrections order and $7,196 fine after spending more than 40 days under house arrest as per his bail conditions, had been informed of the change in the police position.

Chan responded, “no”.

“He may have an interest in that,” Reiss said.

During the hearing, Glover’s barrister, Felicity Graham, said police had “maintained a false assertion” about the ambulance, which had been “corrected” only after the first two defendants were convicted.

“Ms Coco and Mr Larbalestier were sentenced on that false basis and so there is a number of bases on which to consider that there would be an appropriate and different approach taken to Mr Glover’s case,” she said. “It’s simply just not the case that that event occurred.”

The ambulance was directly cited by magistrate Allison Hawkins in sentencing Coco to a 15-month prison sentence last December.

During her sentencing, both the prosecutor and Hawkins repeatedly cited the ambulance in reference to the seriousness of the offence.

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“[W]hat you have failed to take into account in the actions of stopping people going about their everyday life, is other people’s mental health concerns, or other people’s health and safety,” Hawkins said at the time.

“You have halted an ambulance under lights and siren. What about the person in there? What about that person and their family? What are they to think of you and your cause? In fact, you do damage to your cause when you do childish stunts and dangerous stunts like this. It angers the community and rightfully so.”

Coco was jailed after she blocked a lane of traffic on the Harbour Bridge during the protest in April.

She parked a truck and stood holding a lit flare on the bridge during the protest, along with three others arrested at the same time.

She had pleaded guilty to seven charges, including using or modifying an authorised explosive not as prescribed and resisting a police officer during arrest.

An appeal against her sentence is listed to be heard before the district court next week.

While both of the protesters before the court on Tuesday pleaded guilty to blocking the bridge, Graham urged Reiss to not record a conviction in the case based partly on his “genuine motivations”.

Glover, a longtime volunteer firefighter, was inspired to take part in the protest over his distress at the black summer bushfires and the climate emergency, Graham said, a caused that was “not in the class of being a frivolous or fringe issue”.

But in handing down the sentence, Reiss said despite the community “understanding and appreciating … the environmental position we all find ourselves in … not very many in the community would in any way support this kind of conduct”.

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