21 Court Cases That Gripped Australia In 2018

    Here are some of the biggest criminal trials, defamation showdowns, and legal battles that captured the attention of Australians in 2018.

    1. Astro Labe, the Tasmanian DJ who headbutted Tony Abbott

    Rob Blakers / AAPIMAGE

    Astro "DJ Funknukl" Labe, the Tasmanian man who caused an uproar by headbutting former prime minister Tony Abbott during the same-sex marriage postal survey, was sentenced to six months in prison in April.

    Labe pleaded guilty to the offence of causing harm to a Commonwealth official in January. Abbott said the attack left him with a "very very slightly swollen lip".

    Labe explained his actions in a memorable interview with Channel Seven the day after the headbutt: "[I] saw them walk back across the lawns and decided I'm never gonna get the opportunity to headbutt that cunt again, sorry, Tony Abbott again, so I seized a moment."

    He added that the headbutt "wasn't good enough for [his] liking" and that he'd "probably" headbutt Abbott again if he had the chance.

    2. The High Court knocks out Labor senator Katy Gallagher

    AAP

    The citizenship drama that consumed 2017 continued in 2018 when the High Court ruled in May that Labor senator Katy Gallagher was ineligible to sit in federal parliament. Gallagher was knocked out on the basis she was a British dual citizen at the time she nominated for the 2016 election.

    The court decision was a nightmare for Labor, prompting three lower house Labor MPs – Justine Keay, Josh Wilson and Susan Lamb – to resign, as well as Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie.

    3. Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, aka the Opal card cyborg guy

    BuzzFeed News

    The unofficial award for Best Local Court Case goes to Sydney man Meow-Ludo Disco Gamma Meow-Meow, who was fined for travelling without a valid ticket after he implanted the chip from an Opal travel card into his hand.

    The self-described biohacker and cyborg was convicted and fined $220 in March, but later appealed the decision in the District Court – and won. Judge Dina Yehia pointed out Meow-Meow had actually paid for his trip, and said he wasn't trying to fare evade by using the chip in his hand.

    "This is not a case where the appellant deliberately defaced or damaged, altered or tampered with the Opal card in such a way so as to avoid paying for his ticket," she said. "Indeed there is no dispute here that he did pay for his ticket."

    4. Former MP Sophie Mirabella sues for defamation

    Former Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella was awarded $175,000 after she sued the Benalla Ensign over a story that falsely alleged she had pushed independent MP Cathy McGowan as they posed for a photo at a nursing home in 2016.

    During the six-day trial, which began in Wangaratta in April, Mirabella, McGowan and federal minister Ken Wyatt all took the stand, and Mirabella's barrister Georgina Schoff described the article as "fake news".

    5. Tiahleigh Palmer's murderer sentenced to life

    In May 2018, Rick Thorburn was sentenced to life in prison over the murder of his 12-year-old foster daughter Tiahleigh Palmer in 2015.

    Thorburn killed Palmer and dumped her body in a Gold Coast river after he discovered his son Trent had sexually abused Tiahleigh and also feared she might be pregnant. The murder went unsolved for 10 months, but after an anonymous tip prompted listening devices to be installed in the Thorburn home, recordings revealed Thorburn telling his family to "stick to the story". The whole family was arrested in September 2016.

    Thorburn was the last family member to be sentenced in relation to Tiahleigh's murder and will be eligible for parole in 2036. Trent pleaded guilty to charges of incest and perjury and was released in January 2018 after spending 16 months in prison. Thorburn's wife Julene and other son Joshua also spent time behind bars after pleading guilty to perjury and perverting the course of justice.

    6. The man who raped and murdered Eurydice Dixon pleads guilty

    Aap Image / AAPIMAGE

    The rape and murder of 22-year-old Melbourne comedian Eurydice Dixon in June 2018 shocked Australians and sparked an outpouring of rage over victim-blaming and women's lack of safety in public spaces.

    Jaymes Todd pleaded guilty to murdering and raping Dixon in November. He will be sentenced in 2019.

    7. Critically ill children transferred from Nauru to Australia

    Angry over the indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, advocates spent 2018 taking the Australian government to court.

    Multiple lawsuits filed in the Federal Court saw children removed from Nauru on the basis of needing urgent medical treatment in Australia. Many children had attempted suicide or self harm, and others were diagnosed with resignation syndrome, a rare psychological illness in which they withdraw from the world and cease to eat, drink, and talk.

    Some removals were ordered by the courts and others were agreed to by the government after court action was filed. The ongoing lawsuits came against a backdrop of growing fury over the children detained on the Pacific island, and a prominent campaign led by doctors, lawyers and advocates to get everyone out of indefinite detention.

    In May, there were 137 children detained on Nauru; on Dec. 7 prime minister Scott Morrison said there were fewer than 10.

    8. The Dreamworld coronial inquest

    Chris Hyde / Getty Images

    A coronial inquest began in June into the deaths of Kate Goodchild, Luke Dorsett, Roozi Araghi and Cindy Low, who were all killed when an empty raft collided with their raft on the Thunder River Rapids ride at Dreamworld on the Gold Coast in October 2016.

    The inquest sat for a total of 31 days between June and December and revealed a multitude of issues with training, policy, procedure, and maintenance.

    A junior ride operator was on her first day operating the ride and was told not to worry about an emergency button that would have stopped the ride within two seconds, the inquest heard. An engineering supervisor told the inquest the ride should have been shut down after two earlier malfunctions on the day of the accident. Craig Davidson, the CEO at the time of the accident, resigned following the opening statements in the inquest.

    Coroner James McDougall is expected to deliver his findings next year.

    9. 7-Eleven axe attacker Evie Amati found guilty

    District Court of NSW

    Sydney woman Evie Amati was found guilty of attempted murder after she attacked strangers with an axe at a convenience store in the early hours of Jan. 7, 2017.

    The verdict on Aug. 3 came after a three-week trial focusing on whether Amati was mentally ill at the time she launched the attack at a 7-Eleven store in Sydney's inner west. But it was the graphic CCTV footage of the attack that made headlines.

    Amati can be seen entering the 7-Eleven with an axe, before dealing a blow to customer Ben Rimmer's face, and a second that shattered the base of Sharon Hacker's skull. Hacker, who struggles to sleep due to ongoing nerve pain, was saved from more serious injury by her thick dreadlocks, the court heard.

    10. Perth father jailed for murdering his son and leaving his adult kids to bury the body while he watched the AFL grand final

    In June, Perth father Ernest Fisher was found guilty of murdering his 23-year-old son Matthew Fisher-Turner. Fisher stabbed Matthew to death and then left two of his other children to bury their brother's body while he watched the AFL Grand Final.

    His son Joshua and daughter Hannah were convicted of being accessories to the murder. Fisher was sentenced to life in prison with a non parole period of 18 years in August.

    11. Bowraville murders retrial bid rejected by the Court of Appeal

    Supplied

    In September, hopes were dashed for the families of three Aboriginal children who were murdered in the early 1990s in the regional Australian town of Bowraville when a legal appeal to have a man retried over two of the murders failed. The New South Wales government is appealing the decision to the High Court.

    Four-year-old Evelyn Greenup and 16-year-olds Colleen Walker and Clinton Speedy-Duroux disappeared over a five month period in 1990 and 1991. All three children were living on the same street in the Bowraville Aboriginal Mission.

    A 52-year-old white man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was acquitted of Speedy-Duroux's murder in 1994, and of Greenup's in 2006.

    12. Gordon Wood loses his lawsuit against the state of New South Wales

    In August, Gordon Wood lost his malicious prosecution case against the New South Wales government over his wrongful conviction for the 1995 murder of his girlfriend Caroline Byrne.

    Byrne was found dead on June 8, 1995, at the base of The Gap, a cliff known as a notorious spot for suicides at Sydney's Watsons Bay. Wood was found guilty of her murder in 2008, but his conviction was overturned in 2012.

    He has lodged an appeal against the decision.

    13. Bourke Street driver James Gargasoulas found guilty

    Aap / AAPIMAGE

    In January 2017, James Gargasoulas killed six people as he drove his car down Melbourne's busy Bourke Street and mowed down pedestrians.

    After a week long trial in November 2018, a jury took an hour to find Gargasoulas guilty on six counts of murder and 27 counts of recklessly endangering life.

    14. Alan Jones and broadcasters ordered to pay $3.4 million in defamation damages

    In September, broadcaster Alan Jones and two radio stations broke the unenviable record of facing Australia's largest ever defamation payout.

    Jones, Sydney's 2GB and Brisbane's 4BC were ordered to pay $3.4 million to four brothers from the Wagner family after Jones defamed them on air by suggesting they were responsible for 12 deaths during the 2011 Grantham floods, following the collapse of the wall of a quarry owned by the Wagner family.

    Justice Peter Flanagan found that Jones' conduct was "unjustifiable" and that he had acted with a desire to injure the reputations of the Wagners.

    15. Rebel Wilson's appeal

    Scott Barbour / Getty Images

    Aussie actor Rebel Wilson won her 2017 defamation case against magazine publisher Bauer Media. But in 2018, Bauer successfully appealed and Wilson's $4.5 million payout was reduced to $600,000.

    The Pitch Perfect star labelled the decision reducing her damages "bizarre", and attempted to appeal it in the High Court – but it declined to hear the case, finally bringing the saga to an end in November.

    "Today was just about a small point of special damages and to me it was never about the money, it was about standing up to a bully," Wilson said outside the High Court. "And I’ve done that so successfully. At the end of the day that’s what matters."

    16. David Eastman found not guilty of murder after spending almost 20 years in prison

    Former public servant David Eastman spent 19 years in prison after he was convicted of the 1989 shooting murder of police chief Colin Winchester. But in 2014, his conviction was quashed, following a judicial inquiry that found it had been a miscarriage of justice.

    His retrial started in June 2018 and ran for six months in Canberra. In November, a jury found him not guilty and he walked free.

    17. Geoffrey Rush vs Nationwide News

    Hanna Lassen / Getty Images

    The defamation showdown between Geoffrey Rush and Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph was undoubtedly one of the biggest Australian cases of the year.

    Rush sued after the Telegraph published allegations he had been accused of inappropriate behaviour during a 2015-16 production of the classic Shakespeare play King Lear. The stories came in the heat of the #MeToo movement, weeks after The New York Times published its expose on Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Rush strenuously denies the allegations.

    Over the course of the three week trial, filled with high drama, emotion, and even singing on the witness stand, the court heard from Rush, his accuser Eryn Jean Norvill, and a string of witnesses ranging from Australian theatre royalty to Hollywood agents.

    Justice Michael Wigney, who presided over the judge-alone trial, is expected to hand down a decision in early 2019.

    18. The Perth baby meerkat heist

    WA Police / Via Twitter: @WA_Police

    Staff at Perth Zoo were left upset and panicked when a four-week-old meerkat went missing on Sept. 19. Two days later, the tiny animal was recovered at a house in Beverley, east of Perth.

    In November, 23-year-old Jesse Ray Hooker was fined $4000 after pleading guilty to stealing the meerkat from its enclosure. The court heard that Hooker "fell in love" with the animal when he saw it and thought "it would be cool as a pet", AAP reported.

    Two women were also been charged in connection with the stolen meerkat and remain before the court.

    19. "Belanglo Angel" and "girl in a suitcase" killer Daniel Holdom jailed for life

    SA Police / AAP

    Daniel Holdom was handed two life sentences over the brutal 2008 murders of Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson and her two-year-old daughter Khandalyce.

    Pearce-Stevenson’s body was found in 2010, but she went unidentified for years, known only as the "Angel of Belanglo" due to the word "angelic" on a t-shirt found near her remains. Khandalyce’s body was found five years later and 1,200km away, stuffed in a suitcase and dumped on the side of a rural highway in South Australia. It was only after Khandalyce was found that Pearce-Stevenson was finally identified.

    Holdom pleaded guilty in mid-2018 and his sentencing came just two weeks shy of a decade since he carried out the brutal murders. After he was told he would spend the rest of his life in prison, the courtroom applauded.

    20. Informer 3838/Lawyer X

    William West / AFP / Getty Images

    Victoria was rocked by the revelation that a criminal barrister who represented some of the most notorious underworld figures in the country during Melbourne's "gangland wars" was simultaneously acting as a police informant.

    The High Court lifted suppression orders relating to the barrister – who is known as Lawyer X or Informer 3838 – in December, opening the door for media outlets to report on the matter and revealing that a number of high-profile convictions have been thrown into doubt.

    A Royal Commission into the scandal will take place in 2019.

    21. Former Adelaide archbishop Philip Wilson's conviction for covering up child sex abuse overturned

    Former archbishop of Adelaide Philip Wilson was acquitted in December of covering up child sex abuse when a judge quashed his conviction.

    Wilson was the most senior Catholic official in the world to have been found guilty of the offence, and was sentenced to at least six months in home detention.

    But he appealed the decision and judge Roy Ellis found in his favour, ruling there was in fact reasonable doubt that Wilson had committed the crime.

    Lane Sainty is the editor of BuzzFeed News in Australia and is based in Sydney.

    Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

    Got a confidential tip? Submit it here