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Car thieves plead guilty

Friday, 16th June, 2017

By Craig Brealey

One of two young men who accompanied an escapee from jail in Alice Springs on his flight from justice which ended in Broken Hill had spent time in the notorious Don Dale Detention Centre in Darwin, the Local Court heard yesterday.

Ethan James Austral (18) and Rhys McLean (22) pleaded guilty to stealing cars and other offences after police withdrew several like charges in the Local Court yesterday.

In December last year, Austral’s brother, Jermaine (20), escaped from prison, stole a car from tourists in Alice Springs and days later picked up Ethan, McLean and a 16-year-old boy.

The court was told that Ethan intended to drive to Adelaide but on the evening of January 11, police were informed that the four suspects had been seen in a vehicle approaching Broken Hill.

Police chased the car through the city and caught it in Nicholls Street where road spikes brought it to a halt.

Austral was arrested at gunpoint but the others fled on foot. The boy was caught the next morning but Ethan Austral and McLean escaped in a car they stole from a house in Newton Street.

Their lawyer, Tom Saunders from the Aboriginal Legal Service, told Magistrate Geoff Dunlevy that they saw the front door open and dashed inside to hide from the police whom they thought might shoot them.

This “terrified” the owner of the house who screamed at them to get out, Mr Saunders said, so Austral took her car keys and they fled in her station wagon.

The vehicle was abandoned in Ivanhoe where they stole a four-wheel drive and headed back towards Wilcannia.

Mr Saunders said they had been using methamphetamine for days while on the run, had not slept and were lost.

“They were making very risky, very stupid decisions. All they wanted to do was get home and they had no idea where they were,” he said. 

In Wilcannia they stole another vehicle from the caravan park and were heading towards Broken Hill when a police patrol saw them and gave chase.

But it didn’t last long, Mr Saunders said. They pulled over, threw the car keys out the window, stepped out of the car and gave themselves up.

“In all their drug-fuelled craziness, they had a moment of clarity,” he told the court.

Mr Saunders said he would not try to excuse their crimes but the court should consider the circumstances in which they were committed.

Because of their confused state, they were genuinely afraid of being shot and that while they had pleaded guilty to the serious charge of aggravated breaking and entering the house in Newton Street, they had only wanted to hide, he said.

Austral had also spent much of his childhood in foster homes and his youth in the Don Dale Detention Centre where he had been tear-gassed, choked unconscious by a guard and locked in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, Mr Saunders said.

He had also been tied to a chair and a hood put over his head, he said. 

A legal team had visited Austral in the Broken Hill jail to take statements about his treatment in Don Dale for the Royal Commission into Juvenile Detention in the Northern Territory, said Mr Saunders.

However, the prosecution countered that Austral and McLean were hardly the victims in this case; they had aided and abetted a jail escapee, the only fear they had was that of being caught and through their recklessness and drug-taking, they had put the public at serious risk of harm.

Today Mr Saunders will present submissions on behalf of McLean.

Mr Dunlevy said he would sentence both men on June 26.

Escapee, Jermaine Austral, and the 16-year-old boy have been extradited to the Northern Territory.

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