Wollar protesters plead ‘not guilty’

Bev Smiles before appearing in court on charges arising from a protest outside Wilpinjong mine.

Bev Smiles before appearing in court on charges arising from a protest outside Wilpinjong mine.

The three people facing charges arising from a protest that blocked the Wilpinjong mine entrance in April, entered pleas of not guilty in Mudgee Local Court on Wednesday. 

Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes and Stephanie Luke will become the first test case of a new law aimed at interfering with a mine.

Which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail.

The matter was adjourned until Wednesday, June 21, 2017, when a date for hearing will likely be set.

The arrests came the day after a NSW Planning Assessment Commission hearing into the Wilpinjong mine extension.

Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes and Stephanie Luke.

Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes and Stephanie Luke.

Outside court Ms Smiles said that the laws are an attempt to take away the right to protest.

“We have a government in NSW totally captured by the mining industry and what demonstrates that is these new laws that try to prevent peaceful protest by people who are just trying to save their homes and their community,” she said.

“And to be threatened with a seven year jail term for just standing up for our rights is shameful.

“So we’re pleading ‘not guilty’ today because we believe we’ve been badly treated under the circumstance and we want to see more evidence.

“Along with everything else that’s taking up our lives, with ongoing coal mines in our area, this case is just another thing we’ll have to live through and deal with.”

A group of supporters gathered outside the court to accompany the “Wollar Three”, as they were dubbed.

Ms Smiles thanked them for their attendance.

“We really appreciate the support we’re getting, from people from a long distance away, thank you those of you who’ve come from Dubbo, Bathurst, Dungog, Sydney, Balyney, Mudgee and Gulgong,” she said.

At around 5am on Wednesday, April 12, 2017, the group of around 30 people set up their blockade of the Wilpinjong entrance, timed to coincide with a shift change.

Ms Smiles estimated that close to 200 vehicles were stopped from entering the site before the police arrived and the protest was forced to disperse.

The trio were charged with ‘Destroy/damage equipment/road etc belonging to etc mine’ and ‘Pedestrian obstruct driver’s/other pedestrian’s path’.

The PAC granted consent to the Wilpinjong Extension Project, a fortnight after the public meeting in Mudgee and a week after the written submission period closed.

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