Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nightclub assailant protests he was the real victim

Geesche Jacobsen | SMH | 7 November 2011

An attacker's family links police response to the profile of the victim, writes Geesche Jacobsen.

WHEN Blake Markou was assaulted outside Souths Juniors about six years ago, needing stitches to his face, he says police told him to ''piss off'', rejecting the idea of taking a statement or trying to gather video footage of the incident.

But when he assaulted a young man in an Oxford Street nightclub in August 2009, he says while trying to defend a friend, police swung into action.

Markou and his family believe the difference in the police response is not because of the nature of the attack, but the identity of the victim: the then 19-year-old son of the senior Crown prosecutor, Margaret Cunneen, SC.

Her son, Matthew Wyllie, lost two teeth and had his upper jaw dislodged after being hit twice, by two men. He required four operations, including two bone grafts.

The case has involved a complaint to the Legal Services Commissioner, allegations of improper conduct, and an internal police investigation, and now the state's highest court will hear an appeal against one of its lowest penalties.

The complaints have been dismissed and police and the DPP are adamant the case was handled like any other, but Markou's mother, Linda, remains angry.

Margaret Cunneen ... her son was beaten up. Photo: Ben Rushton

''They should have arrested the whole bloody lot of them and charged them with affray,'' she said of the incident in the Nevermind nightclub when two groups of friends became involved in a confrontation.

''If I was in that position again, I probably would not do anything different,'' says Markou, now 27. ''I would jump in and help my mate.''

Markou was charged with assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, given stringent bail conditions and a curfew, which was checked by police on average every second night, around midnight, for four months.

The whole incident had lasted a few seconds, and the District Court Judge Michael Finnane found Mr Wyllie's injuries might have been caused by a hit from the second man. He convicted Markou of the lesser charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, sentencing him to a nine months intensive corrections order, a new penalty which has replaced periodic detention.

Markou is appealing the conviction and sentence in the Court of Criminal Appeal because it stops him from joining the army.

Two other men involved were dealt with in the local court and given good behaviour bonds.Mrs Markou complained to police after her son was arrested for breaching bail - while he was no longer on bail and about three months after he had been convicted. The head of police prosecutions, Superintendent Tony Trichter, said he identified other issues in the complaint and referred them to be investigated. However, Mrs Markou has been told her complaint has been dismissed.

Police files show the investigating officer for Operation Taurus was offered the assistance of six telephone intercepts and surveillance to solve Mr Wyllie's assault case. Assistant Commissioner Ken McKay yesterday rejected any improprieties, saying this was not unusual for a serious assault, and was within police guidelines.

The investigating officer recorded 19 phone or email contacts with Ms Cunneen, and two with her son during the investigation.

''Phoned Margaret Cunneen … and updated with investigation and the assistance offered by Mr McKay. Happy with update. I informed her … that I have a fair idea of who the offenders are,'' the officer in charge of the case is recorded in December 2009.

Another time he emailed her: ''Dear Margaret … Please be assured Matt's case is still a high priority and I am still seeking an outcome, ultimately charging the offenders. As I said previously I suspect I will have to change the investigation path now and adopt covert strategies, such as surveillance to identify the offenders. I will let you know how this goes.''

A police spokesman said the officer in charge fulfilled his obligations ''to keep the victim/family updated with the status of the investigation'' as required under the charter of victims' rights.

Mrs Markou's complaint to the Legal Services Commissioner was rejected, and she was told there was ''not a shred of evidence to suggest [Ms Cunneen] attempted to influence the court''.

A spokeswoman for the DPP said Ms Cunneen had been unable to access the case file, which was locked away and accessible only to the prosecutor and solicitor involved. ''Within these parameters, the matter was treated identically to any matter handled by this office and briefed to a non-salaried Crown prosecutor,'' she said.

In one intercepted phone call Markou talks to a friend about an unnamed female and her son. ''I hope she loses her job, her f---ing house - I hope she ends up getting so depressed she f---ing kills herself,'' Markou is recorded as saying.

In his victim's impact statement Mr Wyllie told the court about his injuries, adding: ''This crime has really affected my confidence, happiness and self-esteem. I always expect something to go wrong now.''

Ms Cunneen said she could not comment on the case as it was subject to appeal.

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