Salim Mehajer: ‘I felt bullied and harassed’
CHANNEL 7 reporter Laura Banks has told a Sydney court she pursued Salim Mehajer because "you never know what you'll get" but denied she deliberately provoked him on the day he allegedly slammed a car door on her.
Banks was attempting to interview Mehajer, 31, as he left Day St police station on April 2 last year after being arrested over an alleged attack on a taxi driver.
As he was leaving - after a lengthy delay where he was pursued by Banks and several other journalists from a taxi, across a laneway and into a garage - Mehajer shut a Porsche door on Banks, hitting her back and hand.
The impact caused her hand to almost immediately bruise and she still feels pain in her back.
The controversial property developer was charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He is defending the charge at a hearing at the Downing Centre Local Court before Magistrate Joanne Keogh.
Mehajer's barrister Phillip Boulten SC played footage of the incident where Mehajer could be heard telling Banks "you're attached to me" and asking her to "get back".
She said it was clear to her that "he didn't feel threatened by me" because he was laughing and smiling.
In fact, she thought he was being "suggestive and flirtatious".
Mehajer was on the phone at the time - something Banks believed was "a charade" to avoid being questioned.
Mr Boulten asked her if she thought Mr Mehajer was getting "agitated" and she replied it was the "situation" rather than herself that was causing that.
"In your own mind that morning did you ever think about whether you had reached the point where your actions crossed the boundary between proper and improper?" he asked her.
"No, I don't believe they did," she replied.
Mr Boulton read parts of the code of conduct of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, which instructs journalists to act with honesty, fairness and respect for others rights.
He asked Banks why she kept pursuing Mehajer even though it was clear he wasn't going to comment.
"You just never know what you'll get with Mr Mehajer," Banks told him.
Footage where journalists called what Mr Boulten said were "goading" questions were played to the court.
Banks said she didn't agree they were goading, but conceded she "didn't agree with the questioning".
Mr Boulten pointed to footage of Banks laughing and said: "I would suggest you were amused."
She told him she was "bemused" and uncomfortable by the situation, but not amused.
"Do you normally carry on like this … what is a typical day for you," Mr Boulten asked her.
Banks said her job as a Channel 7 crime reporter often meant she had to interview people in similar situations, outside police stations and court.
He then asked her why she asked Mehajer about the size of his heels.
"It was to belittle him?"
Banks said it was to obtain a "response".
"To goad him into a response or to provoke him," Mr Boulten put to her.
"No," she answered before adding: "I was doing my job".
However, she later admitted the question was "possibly not" relevant but denied the situation was out of control.
Mr Boulten said the heels comment was a "personalised insult".
Soon after Mr Mehajer got into a car and told her to "watch out".
Banks said it was clear the pair had not finished talking.
"The conversation continuing indicates he didn't want to drive away," she told the court.
Mehajer told the court he felt "cornered, bullied and harassed" by the media when they confronted him in the laneway.
"I didn't want to face the media," he said this afternoon.
"It was horrendous."
He told Mr Boulten he didn't intend to hit Banks with the door.
"Absolutely not ... It all happened very quickly. My thought was [only] to leave."
Footage of the incident was played to the court in which Mehajer can be heard inviting banks into the backs eat of the car moments before the alleged assault.
"You want to jump in the back seat? Jump in, I'll have a little chat to you," he said. "Let's go, just jump in."
She replied: "You want to have a chat to me, what are we talking about?"
Banks could be heard gasping in shock. It followed an interaction where she said to him "Is this rock bottom Salim?" and "This is a really bad day for you".
The footage shows him in a maroon suit talking on his mobile phone while sitting in a taxi, while Banks tries to speak with him. At one point she loses her own phone in the taxi Mehajer was sitting in.
Banks can be heard laughing in the background as Mehajer is asked to leave the taxi.
A police officer asks him to move and when he emerged he was pursued closely by reporters, including Banks.
"Is this rock bottom Salim … could you not afford to pay for the taxi last night … this is a really bad day for you," Banks tells him.
The reporter follows him into a garage where he told her: "Have some respect, I'm on the phone".
A white Porsche then pulls up and Mehajer gets inside. After he climbs into the drivers seat he invites her for the "chat".
Prosecutor Senior Sergeant Amin Assaad asked her what she was doing and she replied she was asking Mehajer questions - "some" of which he answered.
Mehajer watched intently as Banks gave her evidence and wrote on a piece of paper in front of him.
When the car arrived to pick him she said she followed him to the car "door way as we were still conversing".
"Mr Mehajer asked me of I would like to get in the back of car. I said to him 'What do you want to talk about?' and to which responded 'just get in the back and have a chat' ... or words to that effect was his response."
Banks said he then "roughly" shut the door on her.
"I was jammed in the door," she told Mr Assaad.
She said the pain and bruising on her hand, that had been "squashed", appeared almost immediately and also suffered a back injury which was "still quite sore".
Magistrate Keogh will deliver her judgment on Friday morning.
Mehajer is in custody on charges of perverting the course of justice and conspiracy to cheat and defraud relating to a car crash in October last year where he and others allegedly staged a collision in Lidcombe. He was denied bail last week and will reappear on those matters next month.