Several high-profile cases and some with international connections marked the biggest Canberra court stories in 2018, including in the acquittal of accused cop killer David Eastman, and the controversial prosecution of a former Australian spy and his Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery.
There was the dramatic arrest of three Canberra men in Serbia accused of importing drugs. Australian Federal Police took one of those men on a sightseeing trip to Paris while extraditing him back to Australia. Also in the courts this year was a former Navy commander who took bribes from a Singaporean defence contractor known as "Fat Leonard" while he was posted to the US Navy's 7th Fleet in that region.
Here are the top 10 court and crime stories from Canberra in 2018.
Nearly three decades. That’s how long it was between the time Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Colin Winchester was shot dead and former treasury official David Harold Eastman was acquitted of his murder - but not before he’d spent 19 years in jail for it. The killing was said at the time to have ended the age of innocence in Australia.
But the acquittal will not be the end of the matter with a compensation claim against the ACT government on foot and listed for a mention in late January. Mr Eastman, 73, received his acquittal with a bow to the jury and mouthed the words “Thank you”.
Federal prosecutors charged a former spook, Witness K, and his lawyer, Canberra barrister Bernard Collaery earlier this year. The case is shrouded in both controversy and secrecy and the Commonwealth is fighting hard to have the case heard in a closed court on the basis of national security.
It's understood the case is about an illegal bugging operation by Australia on the East Timorese government during negotiations between the two countries about a potentially lucrative oil and gas treaty. Witness K and Mr Collaery are charged with conspiring to reveal information about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
A few public servants made their way through the Canberra court this year, including naval officer Alexander Gillett, 40, who pleaded guilty to abusing public office after he got caught taking bribes from a crooked Singaporean defence contractor “Fat Leonard” while posted to the US 7th Fleet.
Closer to home, ACT government project manager Christopher Hocking, 38, was busted asking a government contractor for a bribe. The attempt failed when the contractor dobbed him in. He also pleaded guilty but avoided jail with an 18-month suspended sentence. A former executive officer to AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, Gary John Fahey, 40, also pleaded guilty to using his Commonwealth credit card to gamble almost $50,000.
In March, a Department of Foreign Affairs public servant was arrested and accused of taking upskirt images of young women in Civic and children. The case is due to go to trial next year.
One of the biggest stories of the year involved three Canberra businessmen - Rohan Arnold, David Campbell and Tristan Waters - who were dramatically arrested by Serbian authorities in January over the importation of 1280 kilograms of cocaine, worth an estimated $500 million, into Australia.
It later emerged that on his way home Australian Federal Police officers took Mr Arnold, the accused international drug dealer, on a sightseeing trip in Paris. The story made the front pages in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. Mr Campbell and Mr Arnold have since returned to Australia and remain in custody. Mr Waters is fighting his extradition.
Canberra’s bikies might have thought they were on one big episode of caught on camera this year after a good number of their activities were captured on surveillance tapes. Memorably there was the wild bikie brawl at a Canberra strip club, the naked shoot out in and arson attack in suburban Canberra, and a prison beef.
Also in the courts this year was Canberra Raiders fullback Jack Wighton who was charged after a drunken night celebrating his birthday in Civic turned violent. Wighton said he didn't remember the incident but surveillance footage captured much of it on video. A court handed Wighton a suspended sentence while the NRL banned him for 10 matches and fined the player $30,000.
Bradyn Dillon’s horrific murder at the brutal hands of his father moved Canberra deeply. This year saw Graham Dillon, 41, jailed for decades for the murder, which was caused by more than one senseless beating of the defenceless 9-year-old boy. Dillon’s treatment of the boy was, the judge aptly described, akin to torture. He’ll spend at least 32 years in prison for the murder and various other violent crimes.
Queensland man Alister Spong, 33, was cleared of all charges after he faced trial over the death of his mate at Summernats car festival last year. Luke Newsome had fallen off the back of Mr Spong’s flatbed ute after Mr Spong performed a “chirpie”, spinning the truck’s wheels, while looping the festival grounds.
Mr Spong admitted he drove negligently, but prosecutors refused to accept his guilty plea to that charge and pressed forward with a more serious charge of culpable driving. In the end a jury acquitted him of both charges. Mr Newsome’s death was the first in Summernats history.
In 2018 an eighth magistrate, Louise Taylor, joined the bench to help the court cope with its workload, we had a chief police officer resign (Justine Saunders) and got a new one, Assistant Commissioner Ray Johnson; Justice Hilary Penfold resigned and we got a new ACT Supreme Court judge in her place, Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson.
The long-awaited findings into the death of Indigenous man Steven Freeman in Canberra's jail were handed down this year in the ACT Coroner’s Court. Mr Freeman, 25, died from a methadone overdose. He was likely opioid naive when he requested and was put on the prison’s methadone program. He died after just his second dose. In his findings Coroner Robert Cook recommended that the jail consider introducing compulsory exercise programs, and remain vigilant in stopping illegal drugs from getting into the prison.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.