A former fine art consultant has been convicted and fined $2500 for breaching a COVID-safety direction after she flew from Sydney to Canberra, claiming she did so to help a friend threatening self-harm and that she was unaware of the restrictions.
Speaking via telephone on Tuesday, 24-year-old Isabella Sophie Hughes pleaded guilty in the ACT Magistrates Court to one count of failing to comply with the chief health officer's direction without reasonable excuse.
The court heard that Hughes had not been granted an exemption to enter the ACT and she was arrested on Kings Avenue about midnight on July 10 after officers stopped the rideshare vehicle she was travelling in.
ACT police identified her as a Greater Sydney resident, who initially said she was not from a hotspot, when she arrived in Canberra from a Sydney flight about 8pm the day prior.
Hughes was taken to a hotel at the airport where she was ordered to remain at her own expense before she would be escorted to a return flight the next day.
In a previous statement, ACT Policing said that just before midnight on the day she arrived, hotel staff notified ACT Policing she had guests and was preparing to leave the hotel.
Police said they followed the rideshare vehicle Hughes was travelling in from the hotel before stopping the vehicle on Kings Avenue about 12.05am on July 10.
In court, Hughes, who grew up in WA and now lives in Queensland, tendered a plea in mitigation and a character reference from a previous employer.
The former fine art consultant and jewellery seller said she came to Canberra because a close friend was making self-harm threats.
"I was in a state of panic and I thought I needed to do everything I could to get to her," she said.
"I didn't understand the exact thing [about COVID restrictions] that was going on. As soon as I got to Canberra, I realised it was the wrong decision."
Anyone who makes such a significant step to travel during that time would have been aware of the requirements.Magistrate Glenn Theakston
Hughes described her actions as her being "silly and naive".
"I'm really, really sorry and very embarrassed about my actions...it's been a big lesson for me," she said.
"It comes down to me making the wrong decision and doing something that I understand now has caused a lot of people harm, but at the time I just hadn't understood."
Magistrate Glenn Theakston said he accepted her remorse but not her explanation that she was not aware about COVID restrictions.
Mr Theakston said her coming from NSW would have meant restrictions about the "dynamic crisis that was changing hour to hour" would have been cleared because of the state's restrictions at the time.
"Anyone who makes such a significant step to travel during that time would have been aware of the requirements," he said.
The magistrate said her offending involved a choice to put her own priorities above governments' to stop the spread of the virus, which was as serious as "preventing the loss of life".
He said government COVID policies were to also prevent illnesses and further disruption to communities, as well as ensuring people think beyond themselves for the greater good.
Mr Theakston said that while her friend's distress was also important, there were other options to help her.
He said there was a strong need for community deterrence and gave Hughes 18 months to pay as she is now unemployed and seeking work.
The maximum penalty for the offence is an $8000 fine.
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