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Vic: Police defy command over Flemington riot

20 Nov 2008 12:59 PM
By Greg Roberts

MELBOURNE, Nov 20 AAP - Angry Victorian police are defying their bosses andplan to re-charge youths who they say attacked them a year ago.

Charges against four teenagers allegedly involved in a riot near the homes in Flemington were dropped last month at the instigation of an inspector.

The police officer who originally laid the charges, Senior Sergeant Mario Benedetti, has publicly expressed his disgust and the Police Association said on Thursday it would help him re-charge the men.

Snr Sgt Benedetti said the charges were dropped due to political pressure.

In what is believed to be a first, the union's lawyers will examine Snr SgtBenedetti's briefs of evidence, association executive member and Fawkner Senior Sergeant Phil Pearson told AAP.

"The members are outraged, they have been set upon by people," he said.

"That should not be allowed to occur and the matters should have proceeded to the courts.

"After careful consideration of the briefs, the inspector agreed there was ample evidence to prosecute four people and authorised allowing charges in respect to each."

Snr Sgt Pearson said race was a factor in the dropping of the charges.

"This is a perversion of the course of justice, he had already looked at itand decided there was enough to prosecute," he said.

"A woman from the Flemington and Kensington legal service told him that a number of witnesses were going to give an alternate account of events.

"(The inspector) then `went to water', in her words, the matters were withdrawn without the knowledge of the informant or consultation.

"This happened because they were Africans and to maintain community harmony, but they have done the wrong thing by the community. If they were white Australian males it would have proceeded to court."

Police initially charged the youths with assaulting and hindering police.

The charges were among those dropped.

Less serious counts of offensive behaviour remained but were withdrawn lastmonth.

The incident allegedly began when a rock was thrown at a passing police vanand violence broke out when officers tried to arrest an 18-year-old.

Relations between police and African youths have been poor in Flemington although force command say they are proactively improving the situation.

One police officer was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs but thelocal African community accused police of targeting them with heavy-handedtactics.

The inspector who ordered the charges be dropped was unavailable for comment but fellow Region Three Inspector Eoghan McDonald said "community harmony" was considered in dropping the charges.

"However under no circumstances is race ever a consideration in a decision to prosecute or not, I can give an absolute guarantee on that," he told AAP.

"(The inspector) looked at the nature of the offences, the age of the offenders and the context in which the incidents occurred.

"Community harmony at large was a consideration in the decision of whether or not to proceed and if it was in the public interest."

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