Cenotaph vandalism caught on camera
RAW VISION: Police would like to talk to the two men seen climbing on the statue in Martin Place on Saturday 19th January. Call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000. No sound. Vision: NSW Police.PT0M0S 620 349
HIS stumbling antics were screened across TV news channels and websites around the country.
CCTV footage released by police had recorded every moment as the young Frenchman clambered up the Cenotaph in Martin Place at 3am, placed a traffic cone on the head of the statue of the First World War soldier and then swung on his bayonet.
It was all recorded by a friend, who admired the images on his smartphone as they departed.
''I feel so, so ashamed'' ... Theo. Photo: Janie Barrett
Now, Fairfax Media can reveal the events of the evening.
Twenty-one year-old Theo (we agreed to publish only his first name), in Sydney working as a waiter, has issued a public apology.
Last weekend, he attended an Australia Day service at the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park where he was given a lesson in how Australian forces helped to defend his country in both world wars.
The Martin Place Cenotaph that was vandalised last month. Photo: Supplied
Speaking with the assistance of an interpreter, he said: ''I feel so, so ashamed of what I did. Even if I was drunk, it isn't a reason to do that.''
The Friday evening two weeks ago began at 11pm at a bar in Surry Hills.
''We drank one bottle of vodka between two people, mixed with tonic. After, we went in another bar to take a beer. We left at 2.40am and we wanted to go in Martin Place because there is a club. We didn't go because we were too drunk.''
Asked about what happened at the Cenotaph, he said: ''I didn't remember anything, I was only aware what I did when my friend called me on Wednesday and said he saw me on TV.
''He described what he had seen on TV and then I remembered.
''I was shocked, yes, shocked … because I realised what I did.''
He stayed in his room for almost three days before going to the French consulate to seek the advice of the consul-general, Eric Berti.
They agreed the best thing was to give himself up to the police. He went to The Rocks police station, where he was interviewed for two hours.
Theo continued: ''I said to police, my friend didn't do anything. It was only me. I apologised to the police.''
The consul-general then called the RSL and the president, Don Rowe, agreed to meet them at Anzac House where they apologised again.
Mr Berti, a French navy reserve officer, said: ''They hugged together. Don said, 'thank you for coming. Thank you for apologising. I accept your apologies'. He said we will explain to you the sacrifice of 35,000 Diggers in France.''
Last Saturday, they went to the Anzac Memorial to witness the Australia Day ceremony.
Theo said: ''I feel so, so ashamed at what I did. I feel very sorry for all soldiers and families who lost loved ones. I want to now be really, really more respectful because I know Australia is a country where people are welcoming and helpful.
''My grandparents lived a terrible war. They were obliged to flee from their house because of the war. They suffered during the war. My grandmother fed American soldiers when they arrived.
''I know Australian soldiers came to France to fight for us and for the freedom of many countries. We didn't realise the significance of the monument because we were very, very drunk.''
He said both his parents were disappointed and anxious about what he had done.
''Of course, we are very sorry for what they did. What is important is that they realise they made a shameful act. They have learnt how to apologise and understand how important the Cenotaph is for Australian people,'' Mr Berti said.
''Out of that they have got something good for themselves because they can give a message to youth to respect this shrine.
''In France and Europe we must remind [youth] that our grandparents died for the freedom of everybody and that we have to respect their memory.''
Theo will later this month appear in court charged with damaging or desecrating a protected place.