Salim Mehajer, disgraced former deputy major of Auburn, and Laura Banks, the Channel 7 reporter he was accused of assaulting.
Salim Mehajer, disgraced former deputy major of Auburn, and Laura Banks, the Channel 7 reporter he was accused of assaulting.

Salim guilty of assaulting reporter

SALIM Mehajer has been found guilty of assaulting a Channel 7 journalist but a Magistrate declined to convict him with a penalty because he had been "hounded" in the most "appalling way".

Mehajer, 31, had been accused of injuring Laura Banks as she tried to interview him after he was arrested for an alleged assault on a taxi driver in April last year.

Magistrate Joanne Keogh said she had "no difficulty" finding he was reckless in his action of shutting her in a car door - but said he himself had been the victim of "predatory" behaviour from a "pack" of journalists that was led by Banks.

"Mr Mehajer was foolish to engage with Ms Banks, but so was Ms Banks foolish to engage with him," said as she delivered her judgment this morning at the Downing Centre Local Court.

He had pleaded not guilty to the charge, arguing he had not meant to harm her and wasn't looking in her direction when he slammed the door shut with what he conceded was "immense force".

Ms Keogh said she had studied the footage of their exchange outside Sydney Central police station carefully.

"Ironically, the impression created was of Mr Mehajer who was the victim and Ms Banks and her cohorts in the media who were [subjecting him] to the most appalling and predatory behaviour."

She said he was a victim of a breach of the peace, but in retaliating the way he did was not unaccountable and was responsible for his conduct.

"He clearly did not confirm that she was no longer there before he closed the door. He took the risk that she had not moved."

She found the charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm proven but sentenced him under section 10A of the Crimes Act where a conviction is imposed without any further penalty.

Salim Mehajer slams a Porsche door on Ch 7 journalist Laura Banks.
Salim Mehajer slams a Porsche door on Ch 7 journalist Laura Banks.

In a strongly worded judgment, Ms Keogh said Mr Mehajer was "assaulted with a barrage of questions" that she believed were designed to "goad" him into a response that was newsworthy.

In particular was a question from Banks about the shoes he was wearing.

"Ms Banks could be heard constantly laughing at Mr Mehajer," she said, adding that "interestingly" she claimed she was laughing at the "situation" and not Mehajer.

The judge said Banks was a witness of "little credit" whose evidence "plainly" was contradicted by the CCTV of the exchange that was played to the court.

In a further rebuke, she said Banks was "not a witness that has stood up to the scrutiny of cross-examination."

Mehajer watched the judgment be delivered via audio visual link from jail where he is being held on remand in relation to separate charges of relating to allegations he staged a car crash last October.

Ms Banks told the court she pursued Mr 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.

The journalist was attempting to interview Mr Mehajer 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 Ms Banks and several other journalists from a taxi, across a laneway and into a garage - Mr Mehajer shut a Porsche door on Ms Banks, hitting her back and hand.

In court this afternoon, Mr Mehajer admitted to using "immense force" when he slammed the door on Ms Banks.

"Yes, I used immense force, I don't deny that. But I was just worried about trying to get away," Mr Mehajer said.

"I felt like I was cornered."

Mr Mehajer and Ms Banks
Mr Mehajer and Ms Banks

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.

Mr Mehajer's barrister Phillip Boulten SC played footage of the incident where Mr Mehajer could be heard telling Ms 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".

Mr Mehajer was on the phone at the time - something Ms 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.

Mehajer denied deliberately shutting Ms Banks in the door.
Mehajer denied deliberately shutting Ms Banks in the door.

"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 Ms Banks why she kept pursuing Mr Mehajer even though it was clear he wasn't going to comment.

"You just never know what you'll get with Mr Mehajer," Ms Banks answered.

 

andrew.koubaridis@news.com.au



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