Madam or slave owner?

An appeal before the High Court will decide how Australia defines slavery, giving the legal system a platform to deal with cases of exploitation of migrant sex workers.
IT WAS probably one of the more mixed audiences that Australia’s seven High Court judges have had. Up the back sat a quiet Filipino nun in a habit and veil, interested to see what this nation’s highest court made of issues surrounding the people she works with in her homeland: women trafficked for sex.
In the front row, taking meticulous notes of the complex proceedings, sat sex-worker representative Elena Jeffreys. Her hair was dyed lime-green and coin-gold; she wore a leopard-print coat and fake-croc platform shoes over blue ankle socks; and her top had purple words running down the sleeves – rentboy, slag, slut, harlot, hooker . . .
Welcome to the landmark legal case of the Queen against Wei Tang. This case will decide how Australia legally defines slavery and “possession” of one person by another. It will decide how Australian anti-slavery laws in the 21st century should respond to the nimble evolution of human wickedness into new forms of human exploitation.
Jeffreys, president of the Scarlet Alliance (the Australian Sex Workers Association), says that whatever the outcome, this case will not be the whole answer: “Migrant sex workers deserve labor rights in Australia so that trafficking doesn’t occur.”
It all began in a brothel in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, where the licensed owner, a Chinese immigrant named Wei Tang, had five Thai women working for her as prostitutes. They arrived in 2002 and 2003 on visas that were fraudulently obtained and worked for her under conditions that prosecutors would later allege amounted to slavery. The women had all worked in the Thai sex industry and knew they were to work as prostitutes here. Four of the women were “purchased” from Thai recruiters for about $20,000 each (one woman was bought from a “Sydney owner”).
Upon arrival in Australia, they had little if any money or English and knew no one. They were told they were “contract girls” who owed a “debt” of between $40,000 and $45,000 that they had to work off (a figure much higher than they had been led to expect). This would involve providing sexual services for no payment for up to 900 men. They were housed in bedrooms in which they slept up to four at a time on mattresses on the floor. Their passports and return tickets were taken from them and locked away and their freedom of movement was restricted. They worked 10-to-12-hour shifts six nights a week just to reduce their “debt”, and if they worked a seventh night could keep that money for themselves.
The brothel was raided in May 2003 and Wei Tang was later charged under 1999 federal laws with five counts of possessing a slave and five counts of using a slave. Her lawyer argued that the contracts were not coercive in that they did not involve violence or fraud, and that this was not slavery but debt bondage. At her first trial, the jury could not reach a verdict, but she was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of six years’ jail at a second trial in 2006.
That was overturned on appeal, Tang was released on bail and a third trial was ordered. Federal prosecutors appealed against that decision to the High Court and Wei Tang cross-appealed to the High Court asking for an acquittal.
If nothing else, the legal tangle suggests that something was amiss with the wording of the laws. Since then, Federal Parliament has passed additional laws naming as separate offences sex trafficking and causing a person to enter into debt bondage.
This case remains important because the questions being raised – such as whether Tang should have been convicted if she did not knowingly intend to possess slaves – have implications for cases even under the new laws.
The High Court must decide the constitutionality of the slavery laws, how slavery should be defined in the 21st century, and what needs to be proved to win a conviction. It must also decide how the crime of slavery should be interpreted in relation to our international human rights obligations.
“It’s the most crucial test of our criminal laws against sexual and all other forms of slavery ever to come before an Australian court,” says Nina Vallins, joint co-ordinator of anti-trafficking group Project Respect.
Vallins says 1000 women are trafficked every year into Australia for the purposes of sex work. Scarlet Alliance claims the figure is only 400 and says the women are not “trafficked” but are migrant sex workers. “The money they earn here sets them up for the rest of their lives in their home country,” Jeffreys argues.
Vallins defines trafficking as having three ingredients: a person is moved from place A to place B; the person has either been kidnapped, or has agreed to go but been deceived about the circumstances that await them at point B; and the purpose of moving the person is to exploit them.
The UN has estimated that between 750,000 and 4 million women, children and men are trafficked internally and across national borders each year.
This week’s case was considered so significant that Solicitor-General David Bennett appeared to speak for the federal Attorney-General, arguing that the slavery laws were supported by the external powers section of the constitution. He said the laws were drafted along the same lines as international anti-slavery treaties to which Australia is party.
Brett Walker, for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, also joined the case. He argued that international and Australian lawmakers had intended the definition of slavery to include slavery in all its forms, including sexual servitude and debt bondage.
For the High Court, one of the problems is that the legal definition of slavery is a circular one: a slave is someone over whom another person exercises powers of ownership. Also, there are other relationships, such as employment, in which one person exercises some degree of “ownership” over another.
Justice Michael Kirby said if slavery was not carefully defined, “then lots of harsh employment contracts are going to slip over into slavery and are going to be prosecuted with a potential of 25 years imprisonment on conviction . . .
“There are an awful lot of people working in back rooms of restaurants and in the rag trade (whose employers) would be susceptible to . . . prosecutions for slavery.”
Kirby asked whether it was significant that two of the women stayed on to work in the brothel after their “debts” were paid out: “That rather suggests for them that this was an employment, not slavery.”
Wendy Abraham, for the Crown, said, “Your Honour, with respect, a happy slave is a slave nonetheless . . . They worked for six months with next to no money.”
What Wei Tang intended, and how important her thinking was, are other crucial questions for the court. Her lawyer, Neil Young, QC, argued that the trial judge erred in not telling the jury they must be satisfied that she was aware that by her actions she was treating the women as property.
The Crown argues it is necessary only that she knew about the harsh conditions she imposed on the women, not that she turned her mind to whether this might mean she was enslaving them.
Kirby raised concerns about this, saying the requirement that an offence be intentional “is sort of the golden thread of our criminal law”.
Chief Justice Murray Gleeson asked, “Would it suffice if the basis of the respondent’s belief as to how she could deal with these people as she did was simple, ‘They had been bought and paid for, that is why I can deal with them this way’ “?
Justice Kirby asked Young about the disparity between the real costs of importing women – a $2000 air fare and several months’ food and accommodation – and the $45,000 “debt”.
Young replied: “The other aspect of what I call the arrangement . . . was an opportunity to continue to work in Australia . . . there was an opportunity being exchanged.”
The court has reserved its judgement, which will be closely scrutinised by human rights advocates as well as lawyers, police and prosecutors.
Vallins, whose organisation works with trafficked women, hopes the finding will enshrine the principle “that women shouldn’t be enslaved, and that sex workers deserve the same protections as the rest of us”.
Jeffreys says it will take more than changes to legal wording to address the problem of migrant sex workers whose human rights are abused.
She wants the Federal Government to offer more women legal visas so they do not have to go through an agent.
She also wants education programs for brothel owners and workers “so people know they don’t have to put up with conditions of debt bondage. They introduced a whole lot of new laws but at no time has the Government funded (programs) to tell people what the new laws are.
“Prosecutions are not indicators of success. They are the result of a short-sighted failure to understand the issues.”
Karen Kissane is law and justice editor.
AUGUST 1998 Wei Tang granted prostitution service provider’s licence to operate a brothel and escort agency business in Fitzroy (Club 417).
JUNE 2002 Paul Pick approved as manager of Club 417 under the Prostitution Control Act.
2002-2003 Five Thai women voluntarily agree to come to Australia to work as prostitutes. Thai recruiters were paid a sum of money, generally $20,000, as a purchase price for each woman. Women are told they must work off a total debt of up to $45,000.
JANUARY 2003 Tang, Pick and an associate, Thai national Donporn Srimonthan, arrested and charged. Srimonthan pleads guilty to three slave-trading offences and is jailed.
MAY 2005 Pick found not guilty of eight counts; the jury is hung in relation to other counts against him and all counts against Tang.
JUNE 2006 Tang is re-tried alone and convicted of five counts of possessing a slave and five counts of exercising over a slave a power attaching to the right of ownership, namely, the power to use. Sentenced to 10 years’ jail with a non-parole period of six years.
FROM JULY 2007 Victoria’s Court of Appeal quashes Tang’s convictions and orders another re-trial. Tang is freed on bail. Federal prosecutors appeal to the High Court against the quashing of the convictions. Wei Tang cross-appeals to the High Court. Case began before the full bench this week.

First published in The Age.

Sexual servitude ‘not slavery’


SEXUAL servitude legally falls short of ownership and should not be considered a form of slavery, even though it denies a person freedom in fundamental ways, the High Court was told yesterday.
A person could not be convicted of slavery unless they had exercised a “right of ownership” and treated another person as a piece of property, knowing that they were enslaving them, Neil Young, QC, said.
He said there was no legal basis for expanding that traditional definition of slavery to incorporate similar offences such as debt bondage and the trafficking of women.
Mr Young was appearing for Wei Tang, a former Brunswick brothel owner. Ms Tang was convicted in 2006 of 10 counts of possessing and using slaves in relation to five Thai women who had been imported to work for her as prostitutes. Her lawyers argued that she believed she had a contract of employment with the women.
She was sentenced to a minimum of six years’ jail but was released on bail in 2007 when Victoria’s Court of Appeal ordered a retrial. The Crown appealed to the High Court over that decision, and Ms Tang cross-appealed to the High Court asking for an acquittal.
The jury at her trial was told that the Thai women had their passports confiscated and their freedom of movement denied.
The women were told that in coming to Australia they had incurred a “debt” of $45,000, which had to be worked off by servicing up to 900 men, working six days a week. They could earn money for themselves on the seventh day, but their banking cards were locked away so they could not access them alone.
Solicitor-General David Bennett, appearing for the federal Attorney-General, argued that Australia’s anti-slavery laws had been intended to cover sexual servitude if the control over the sex worker was so far-reaching that it effectively amounted to a right of ownership. The hearing is over, with judgement reserved to a date to be fixed.
· A question of bondage PAGE 17

First published in The Age.

Judge warns many could be snared by slavery laws

Rag trade, restaurants may be at risk

AUSTRALIA’S anti-slavery laws could be interpreted in a way that netted employers who exploit workers, High Court justice Michael Kirby has warned.
Speaking from the bench in a sex-slavery case yesterday, he said if the court did not define “slavery” with care, “then a lot of harsh employment contracts are going to slip over into ‘slavery’ and are going to be prosecuted with a potential of 25 years’ imprisonment on conviction”.
“There are an awful lot of people in this country working in back rooms of restaurants and in the rag trade (whose employers) would be susceptible to … prosecutions for slavery, and that cannot be what Parliament intended,” Justice Kirby said.
The lawyer before him, Wendy Abraham for the Crown, said: “But really, with respect, Parliament cannot have intended either that it is OK to possess somebody.”
Justice Kirby was part of a full bench of the High Court hearing an appeal against the conviction of a Melbourne woman on 10 slavery-related charges.
In 2006 Fitzroy brothel owner Wei Tang was convicted by a County Court jury of having possessed and used as slaves five Thai women she imported to work as prostitutes.
The women were told they had debts of up to $45,000 to work off, which would involve servicing up to 900 men. The prosecution alleged their passports were taken away, they were denied freedom of movement, and had to work six days a week for no payment other than reduction of the “debt”.
Wei Tang was sentenced to a minimum of six years in prison, but was released on bail in 2007 when the Court of Appeal ordered a retrial. The Crown appealed to the High Court against that decision. Wei Tang has cross-appealed to the High Court asking for an acquittal.
Wei Tang’s lawyers say she believed she had an employer relationship with the women. The Crown argues that it is not necessary for her to have knowingly enslaved, only that she knowingly set up the conditions that effectively made the women slaves.
The landmark case challenges the constitutionality of the laws. The federal Attorney-General and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission are appearing to defend them.
Justice Kirby said it would be naive “if we did not keep in the back of our mind that there are very large movements of populations in the world today, including of commercial sex workers … who do so for economic advancement, and that is just part of the reality of the world we live in”.
Ms Abraham replied: “It is considered, in effect, a modern form of slavery, because in many instances what is happening is similar to what happened in this instance. ”
But Justice Kirby said: “The fact that these were women who had worked in the commercial sex industry in Thailand and came to this country in pursuit of an arrangement which they made there, and stayed on in the brothels after they had paid off their debt, is at least arguably evidence against notions of involuntary slavery.”
Justice Kirby said that when he was an articled clerk there were many elements of his employment that were “very similar to slavery: long hours, lack of food and various forms of oppression. But no one would have said it was slavery.”

First published in The Age.

‘He was completely out of his mind, insane’

Karen Kissane and Kate Hagan

KAERA Douglas was out of places to run. This time, she was so frightened that she could hardly walk.
A few minutes earlier, she had found a dancer from the Spearmint Rhino strip club on the ground in King Street, topless, bloody and unconscious from a beating. She grabbed the girl’s top and covered her before running inside to tell the bartender to call an ambulance.
Back outside, Ms Douglas caught sight of Christopher Hudson, her on-again, off-again lover, and the man she was sure had done the beating. He motioned her over to him at the corner of King Street and Flinders Lane and grabbed her. “I just knew that he was completely out of his mind, insane, just completely gone,” she later told police.
She tried to defuse his rage with, “Come on, you don’t have to do this.” But he pushed her along, insisting, “Walk with me!”
She knew he had a gun. He showed her how it was stashed down the front of his pants. She thought fast: “How do I get out of this? He’s bigger, faster, stronger than me.”
She knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of his fist. He had punched her previously. And she knew how obsessive he could be. Every time she had tried to break up with him he had pursued her relentlessly on the phone.
So she kept putting one foot in front of the other. But surrender did not save her. She became one of three people whom Christopher Hudson, white-faced with rage, shot in quick succession in the centre of Melbourne that grey June morning.
Ms Douglas, at least, would live to tell of it. A passer-by who went to her aid would not.
Yesterday Hudson, 31, pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to murdering solicitor and father-of-three Brendan Keilar and attempting to murder Dutch backpacker Paul de Waard and Ms Douglas. A charge of unlawfully imprisoning Ms Douglas was withdrawn.
Hudson has more than 60 convictions in Queensland and NSW for offences including assault, grievous bodily harm and possessing weapons.
Statements by witnesses about the events of that morning were tendered to the court. From them can be pieced together the story of how the sex and violence of people of the night exploded into the light of day.
Kaera Douglas, 25, had only recently returned to Melbourne after fleeing Sydney to recover from being jilted by a boyfriend and to take refuge in “the safety of my parents’ house”. She had been doing promotional work and had a job lined up as a part-time travel consultant.
She had met Hudson through the ex-boyfriend; when that relationship was over, Hudson offered her a shoulder to cry on. They started seeing each other in April last year.
She discovered a different side of him when they took a road trip to Adelaide. “I forgot the (hotel) door key and when the door finally got opened he took me inside and he hit me and (threw) me around. I think I got a broken nose.”
She took photos of herself with black eyes but didn’t tell anybody he had hit her. She fled back to Sydney for a couple of weeks: “It terrified me to the bone. I just remember crying for my mummy and daddy.”
In text messages, she told him “how I couldn’t stand him and, just, how I was getting nightmares from how he’d hit me and stuff, and he just wrote back, ‘I don’t care’.”
Days after returning to Melbourne, she saw him again. “I didn’t want to go, to be honest, but he just broke me down and just rang and rang and rang.”
On the morning of June 18 last year, they were staying at a city hotel. Hudson sent her a text message at 6am telling her to go to a King Street nightspot, Bar Code.
“That was just like, no way. And then I got up and went to the bathroom and noticed that my keys and all my money had been taken. My plan was to go down there and get my keys to my car, catch a cab back and get my things and leave. (I was) seriously scared ’cause I knew that he’d been drinking.”
What Ms Douglas did not know was that events that night at another nightclub, Spearmint Rhino, had left Hudson smouldering like a lit fuse – and she would walk right into his explosion.
Hudson had wanted to keep chatting to one of the girls who had knocked off work. But at Spearmint Rhino, entertainers not in costume must go home. He protested to management, to no avail.
He had also had a hostile encounter with Autumn Daly-Holt, the young woman he would leave bleeding on the steps of the club later.
Ms Daly-Holt acknowledged to police that she had “some kind of altercation with Chris…He got into my personal space and I became defensive. I don’t know what the argument was over. I do recall at some stage with Chris telling him to f— off.”
This might have occurred when she was giving a semi-naked lap dance for the club’s manager. Stephen Kyriacou told police that Ms Daly-Holt was “getting quite frisky with me. All of a sudden I saw Huddo was standing on the ramp area above us. He reached down and grabbed (her) by the hair and lifted her up slightly. She began to cry and he stopped doing it.”
A male patron told Hudson there had been no need to pull her hair. A Spearmint Rhino dancer, Marie Gamard, told police that Hudson pulled up his sleeves and pointed to his tattoos in response, saying: “Do you know who I am? I’m a Hells Angel.” When the man told Hudson he had just come back from Iraq, they both calmed down, she said.
Drug use might have been a factor that night. According to another entertainer at the club, Carly Rheinberger, Hudson at one stage went to the men’s toilets with another man. “When they came out both of them looked happy. I said to them, ‘Excuse me, where is the love?’, meaning, where is my share of the drugs? Huddo replied to me that it wasn’t his to share. He did offer me money to buy some if I wanted it.”
It is not known what was happening inside Hudson’s head. Afterwards, he gave police a “no comment” interview.
But about 7.55am, Ms Daly-Holt left Bar Code and sat down on its steps outside. Hudson approached her. She said later: “I was afraid of Chris due to what had happened earlier…I can remember brushing Chris away with an open palm manner because he was invading my space.”
He kicked her in the face. “I remember clutching my nose and my face and thinking, ‘F— that hurt.” He picked her up and threw her out onto the footpath.
She tried to sit up. He kicked her in the face again, hard. A witness said, “I saw him draw his foot back and kick through with what looked like absolute force straight into the girl’s face.”
Ms Daly-Holt fell backwards onto the concrete footpath. Hudson went back into the club. When he came out again he used a foot to roll her body onto her side, the witness said: “Then her body rolled back again, onto her back, and she didn’t move.” Another witness said: “She sounded like she was choking on her own blood and was making a gurgling sound.”
Hudson re-entered Bar Code and signalled to Ms Douglas that it was time to go. This is when she discovered Daly-Holt on the footpath and ran inside to call an ambulance.
Outside, Hudson forced Ms Douglas along the street and into an underground car park in William Street. He pinned her against the wall with his left forearm against her throat. His right hand held a gun.
A cleaner heard her screams and came to investigate. Hudson, distracted, allowed Ms Douglas to flee onto Flinders Lane at the intersection of William Street, where she tried to flag down a taxi. She tugged desperately at its doors but they were locked. Hudson caught up with her and dragged her away from the taxi by the hair.
In one of those random collisions of events that forever changes lives, two male passers-by stopped to help.
Solicitor Brendan Keilar, 43, was walking to work in the city along Flinders Lane and Dutch backpacker Paul de Waard, 26, was on his way to McDonald’s for coffee.
Mr de Waard was struck by the fear on the face of the young woman crying “Help!” The thing that stood out about Hudson, he recalled later, was “the mad look in his eyes”.
Mr de Waard said: “I felt that I had to stop him, then I looked around me to see if there were more people to help me separate the man and the woman.
“When I first saw Brendan, I think he was walking in the same direction as me and we both stepped up to them, together. That made me feel stronger because (he) looked stronger than me and I thought that together we could stop the man hurting her. As we walked towards them I think I said something like, ‘What are you doing, mate? Let her go.’ ”
Hudson continued to hold Ms Douglas by the hair with his left hand. With his right, he pulled out the gun.
Without a word, he shot all three people at close range.
Onlookers would recall the orange flash of each shot and the shooter’s apparent calm. “This guy seems very deliberate about what he’s doing,” thought one witness, as he ducked for cover.
Hudson fired more shots into the two men as they lay on the ground, emptying the handgun of all six rounds.
He left Ms Douglas screaming, with a shot to the abdomen. Mr de Waard was hemorrhaging with wounds to the chest and abdomen. A woman came to help him, holding his hand, demanding that he not close his eyes, telling him he was being very brave.
Bystanders began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on Brendan Keilar but his pulse stopped before the ambulance arrived.
Many lives changed forever that day. Ms Douglas and Mr de Waard have faced many operations. Mr Keilar’s family have lost a loved husband and father.
Mr Keilar’s brother-in-law, Paul Firth, identified his body. He told police that Mr Keilar grew up in Warrnambool and was dux of his graduating class at Christian Brothers College before moving to Melbourne to study law. The highly regarded solicitor married his “true soulmate”, Alice, in 1992, and they had three children.
“Brendan was a bright, effervescent and strong person. He held his immediate and extended family close to his heart,” Mr Firth told police, noting that he was also well read and held strong social convictions. “The grief that Brendan’s death has caused our family is indescribable…we will never get over (his) loss.
“Brendan has been described as having a moral compass that governed his life. It is of no surprise to us to learn of (his) actions on the day of his death. They are consistent with the way that Brendan lived.”

First published in The Age.

Turning malice on the palace

ROBERT Pate gave Queen Victoria a black eye when he struck her with a brass-topped cane in her carriage in 1850.
He pleaded insanity at his trial, and the judge told him he was tempted to accept the plea because “I would fain believe . . . that no man but a madman would attack the most gracious sovereign of this country. I believe it is as great a proof of insanity as it is possible for a person to give.”
A new study into attacks on Britain’s royal family, co-authored by a Melbourne psychiatrist, has concluded that the judge was right: most attacks on royals that result in injury are committed by people who are deluded or psychotic, rather than activists pursuing political aims.
The study was part of research commissioned by the British Home Office to try to discover how to weed out potential assassins from harmless eccentrics.
“The Queen alone has at any one time literally hundreds of people who are raising concern by inappropriate behaviour such as attempts to enter the royal palaces, threats or sending bizarre communications,” says Professor Paul Mullen, co-author of the study. He said 70% of those people had a serious mental illness, the royal family being a magnet for the insane.
Professor Mullen is clinical director of Victoria’s Institute of Forensic Mental Health and an international expert on stalkers.
He and two colleagues, one based in London, were given access to files of Britain’s Royalty Protection Police and its Parliamentary Protective Services. Their preliminary research is part of an article with other authors entitled “Attacks on the British Royal Family: The role of Psychotic Illness”, published in the current Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
Twenty-three attacks were studied between 1778 and 1994. Nearly half the attackers studied were vengeful teenage males wanting to punish a rejecting world, and they shared characteristics with boys who have committed high school shootings in the US.
Professor Mullen says very few people with mental illness are dangerous, but those mentally ill people who pursue the famous have proved more dangerous than those with a political axe to grind.
The study concluded there was little chance of identifying a high-risk group among all the disordered people stalking public figures.
It recommended instead that authorities assess the level of psychiatric disorder in individual stalkers and get them into treatment where necessary.

First published in The Age.

Planted agent showed how to make bomb

HE ATTENDED the sheikh’s Islamic religious classes. He sought the sheikh’s advice about marital prospects and investment decisions. And he showed the sheikh how to make a bomb.
A Supreme Court jury yesterday heard the story of the alleged terrorist leader and the spy sent to trap him – a tale of a false identity, a false commitment to violent jihad and conversations that threw out lures in search of evidence.
Secret Intelligence Operative 39 gave evidence from a remote location in the trial of Abdul Nacer Benbrika and eleven other Melbourne Muslims charged with preparing or fostering terrorism in the pursuit of violent jihad.
There were technical problems with attempts to pixelate SIO 39’s face so he gave his evidence by audio link.
“I’ve never cross-examined a loudspeaker before,” rumbled Remy Van de Wiel, QC, for Benbrika.
SIO 39 took his oath on the Koran. He told the court he was a Victoria Police officer working undercover with the covert unit of the security intelligence group when he first met Benbrika and his associates at a religious class in a sports centre in the Coburg-Preston area on May 16, 2004.
He introduced himself as Ahmet Sonmez, a Turk newly arrived from Tasmania.
“Sonmez” said his father was a Turk who had gone back to Turkey, and that he, Sonmez, was seeking to re-establish his Islamic identity by connecting with the Muslim community in Melbourne.
The agent claimed he was working as an unskilled labourer on building sites for a wealthy businessman. He several times offered to help get Benbrika a job working for cash with the man who was his boss. He sought moral guidance from the sheikh. He talked to Benbrika about whom he should marry, and Benbrika emphasised the importance of choosing a woman with religious views.
The agent told Benbrika that he was having a crisis of conscience over his investments. He said he held shares in Coca-Cola and he feared this was unethical because it was an American company. He wanted to know the religious status of any money he made if he sold them – and then he gave $500 of that alleged profit to Benbrika for the sheikh’s religious classes or any other worthy cause.
At one point he offered to lend Benbrika and his associates the use of a remote property in northern Victoria. He claimed his boss owned it and had told him he could stay there any time he liked, and that he could bring whoever he wanted.
Asked Mr Van de Wiel: “You were making a very deliberate effort to befriend him, weren’t you? … Consistent with the directions you had been given?”
“Yes, that’s right,” said the agent.
Agent 39 told Benbrika that he did not fear authorities because he had kept his driver’s licence and car registration Tasmanian, so authorities did not know where he was.
He also claimed that, while working for farmers in Tasmania, he had become expert in using explosives to blow up tree stumps. He said security over access to explosive materials was lax in Tasmania and that he could easily buy some through his former employer there, no questions asked.
He told the court that on the morning of October 6, 2004, he had an 8.45 meeting with members of the Victoria Police Special Operations Group. They gave him a plastic icecream container with white granules of the explosive material Nitropill, a two-metre length of yellow safety fuse, a stick of gelignite, and two detonators. He had previously been trained in how to use these ingredients to make an explosion.
He rang Benbrika and arranged to pick him up at midday. He told Benbrika that his boss had given him a day off because he had worked at the weekend and that he knew just where to go: a place he had found while bushwalking.
He drove Benbrika to a spot near Drag Hill Road, Kilmore, near Mount Disappointment. Surveillance film of the exercise shown to the court showed the two men talking in a sunny clearing surrounded by native trees. They both dropped to their haunches as the agent busied himself with something on the ground.
The agent told Benbrika: “Sheikh, ah, when I – when I light, once I light this one we have to move quickly, all right? It starts to burn.”
But the first effort to create an explosion failed. A few wisps of smoke were quickly cleared by the breeze.
The agent said he was reluctant to go back to check on it too quickly: “To make a hundred per cent sure, you have to wait half an hour before you can go near it … If you go there and then it explodes, you die, you know.”
Benbrika was impatient. He did not want to be late for a doctor’s appointment and “I have to pick the kids up from school”. But he waited for the second attempt, which produced an expanding cloud of thick, grey smoke.
In February 2005, the agent told Benbrika he was going back to Turkey to meet a prospective bride. In May, he reconnected with Benbrika and said he was returning to Turkey for good. Benbrika expressed concern for his future and told him he would always be there for him. The trial continues before Justice Bernard Bongiorno.
· Watch the blast and see more photos.
· Abdul Nacer Benbrika, 47
· Amer Haddara, 28
· Shoue Hammoud, 28
· Aimen Joud, 23
· Shane Gregory Kent, 31
· Abdullah Merhi, 22
· Ahmed Raad, 25
· Bassam Raad, 26
· Ezzit Raad, 26
· Majed Raad, 23
· Fadl Sayadi, 27
· Hany Taha, 33

First published in The Age.