Which case won?

casea
The case for the prosecution
  • Mr SML used the hedge clippers recklessly.
  • He lunged at his neighbour when she was pointing to an area around hip height to indicate where she believed he should not trim.
  • He cut his neighbour when she was in his line of sight, deliberately inflicting grievous bodily harm on her.
caseb
The case for the defence
  • I was reaching down to ground level with the hedge clippers when my neighbour came onto my property and confronted me.
  • I was bending forward and didn’t see my neighbour’s hand.
  • My neighbour suffered an injury because she attempted to grab the hedge clippers to stop me from pruning the hedge.

So, which case won?

Cast your judgment below to find out
Case A Case B

Case B won. You were right!

How people voted
a31%
b69%

Expert commentary on the court's decision

John GooleySolicitor
“The Crown had an onus to show that the defendant actually thought about the consequences of his act and realised the possibility of actual bodily harm at least, if he was to be found reckless.”
"He's ripping out the plants again"

Declaration of interest: Stacks acted for Mr SML in this matter.

Despite the extensive witness list, only the victim and defendant could really provide evidence one way or the other. There were two exceptions. The first was the adult son, who saw the hedge clipping in progress and ran downstairs and told his mother “he’s ripping out the plants again”.

He then ran back upstairs to play a computer game. He denied embellishing what he saw, but the forensic photos showed a few clipped plants, and none “ripped out”. He denied revving his mother up.

Court hears outlandish story about bloodstained threat note

The son then stunned everyone with a story about the “bloodstained threat note” he said his mother had received. This turned out to be a builder’s quote, obtained by and sent to another neighbour, for a minor project proposed by that neighbour.

He had copied it to affected neighbours, including the victim and defendant, and had cut a finger sealing the envelope to the victim. Her son said that, as his mother’s name (and that of the defendant) were on the document, the defendant “must have put the blood there as a threat to mum”.

He produced the document which he said he had kept in an “evidence bag” in his room for several years. The prosecutor got him off the stand before we went on to Long John Silver and the Black Spot. His evidence did not harm the case for the defence.

Prosecution relies upon police forensic evidence

The second exception was the police forensic evidence – photographs and charts of the blood evidence. The prosecution case was consistent with a higher level of injury (around 1m to 1.5m above ground) with blood spatter high on the shrubs, and up to head height on the defendant – but not on the victim, except around both hands and wrists.

This was put to show that the defendant raised the shears and with the victim in his line of sight, recklessly cut her.

Victim admits defendant remained on his own side of the boundary

The victim admitted she was angry with the defendant, for many things over many years. She admitted she swore at him just before the cut occurred.

She admitted under cross examination that she knew he had put up “no trespassing” signs on the driveway area where the incident occurred and eventually, that the defendant was at all times on his own side of the boundary and only working on plants on his side of the hedge.

She had volunteered in one of three statements to police that after the cut “blood pooled in my hand and I thrust it at him, twice, to show him what he had done”.

At the close of the prosecution case it was decided not to call the defendant. He had been voluminous in his ERISP (“electronic recorded interview of suspect person”, as well as with the media) and was unlikely to assist his case further.

Blood spatter consistent with handfuls of blood being thrown at defendant

The prosecution and defence advised the magistrate they agreed that the Criminal Trials Bench Book was very relevant. The Crown had an onus to show that the defendant actually thought about the consequences of his act and realised the possibility of actual bodily harm at least, if he was to be found reckless. The magistrate agreed and the parties went to submissions.

The defence was able to show that no pooled blood was found at the scene, but the spatter was extensive. Forensic photographs showed a pattern of droplets that included a blood free “shadow” area. The submission was made that this was a result of the two handfuls of blood being thrown at the defendant by the victim and adhering to him and his clothing.

Victim’s actions explain higher level blood spatter on shrubs

Further, the diagrams provided in evidence by both defendant and victim indicated that the same throwing motion would have been responsible for the higher level spatter on the shrubs.

The boundary of the properties was not up to date on council documents. However, it was agreed that the entire driveway and all of the hedge were on the defendant’s property, as the victim had agreed with that proposition in the previous year and acknowledged the “no trespassing” point.

She had gone onto the defendant’s property to remonstrate with him on this occasion.

Police case not made out beyond a reasonable doubt

The forensic photos also showed that the plants which had been trimmed were cut no more than 40cm above ground, more a “thinning” process than a “trimming” one. That was consistent with Mr SML’s version of events and those of several other neighbours who saw him crouched down and continuing to cut the hedge until the ambulance arrived. It was found that he was probably in shock.

The magistrate found that the police case was not made out beyond a reasonable doubt and the matter was dismissed. There was no appeal.

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