Local News

Pine Gap trespassers fined, avoid jail

 pine gap no credit

A group of protesters who broke into a top secret military intelligence base in the Northern Territory has avoided jail.

Supporters erupted in applause and cheers in the NT Supreme Court, sitting in Brisbane, on Monday after it was learned the five men and one woman would not be imprisoned.

Queenslanders James Dowling, Franz Dowling, Andy Paine, Tim Webb and Margaret Pestorius were found guilty of scaling the 1.2m fence of the joint US defence facility at Pine Gap on September 29, 2016.

Paul Christie followed suit a few days later.

Justice John Reeves said the group trespassed onto the base knowing it was a prohibited area, to protest against war activities taking place around the world.

"Your activities posed no real threat to the Pine Gap facility," he said, adding they expected to be arrested by Australian Federal Police officers as soon as they entered.

Justice Reeves said he did not agree with the Crown's assertions the "offences struck at the heart of national security, although you were caught before any such harm could occur".

The court had previously heard the group was chanting, praying and playing music on the restricted site.

Justice Reeves convicted all six members, but said he did not think jail was an appropriate punishment.

Christie was fined $2000, while Dowling and Webb were both ordered to pay $1250.

Paine, who had previously been convicted for trespassing on Commonwealth land, was fined $2500.

Justice Reeves delivered a stern message to the two oldest members of the group, Pestorius and James Dowling, saying they should be setting a good example to younger protesters.

The court heard James Dowling, 62, had a long history of similar offending that dated back more than 30 years.

Justice Reeves said although the Crown wanted to send him to jail, he thought it would do nothing to deter others from committing similar crimes.

"If I do that, I think that will be likely to make you a martyr to your cause," he said.

"It is essentially for that reason, that is, to avoid making you a martyr, that I think the most appropriate sentence is to do what I have done with all the others.

James Dowling was fined $5000, while Pestorius was fined $3500.