A 21-year-old man has pleaded guilty to common assault charges where he is alleged to have bashed teenage girls.
Hong Ben Lee appeared at Central Local Court on 27 April 2021 in relation to a brawl involving multiple persons on the night of Mardi Gras.
The altercation was filmed and went viral on Instagram.
Two other men, William Shepley aged 23 and Jesse Mackenzie, aged 29 were also charged with similar offences for their role in the fight. Police are still searching for a fourth man.
Bail Application at Central Local Court
Initially, all three men had been bail refused by police and made release applications at Central Local Court.
At that stage, Magistrate Brett Shields described the alleged assaults as a "random act of violence". With police alleging that the group pushed, hit, kicked and punched two schoolgirls.
Two 16-year-old girls were taken to hospital with facial injuries and a possible concussion, and a 15-year-old girl later came forward to police.
Both Lee and Shepley were initially charged with common assault. They also each faced an affray charge.
However, midway through Mr Lee's bail application in court, the Magistrate revealed that he was facing an additional charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm against a third complainant.
Neither the police prosecutor nor Mr Lee's bail application lawyer were aware of this charge.
Hong Ben Lee's lawyers for bail application told the court that he was "somewhat perplexed" by the news, but that there was a "very weak" case for the charge and Mr Lee would plead not guilty.
"It suggests to me perhaps (police) are unsure about how injuries occurred (on the third victim) and have tried to attribute them to my client because he's in the vicinity," he said.
The police prosecutor accepted that Mr Shepley's alleged behaviour during the melee was more serious than that of Mr Lee, and involved kicking a teenage girl in the head.
The court heard Shepley is undertaking several educational courses including a positive lifestyle class and a violence against women program.
When asked what he made of the video, Shepley's assault lawyer said his client was "very upset about everything". And when asked whether his client intended to plead guilty, he said, "maybe, we'll see".
Both men were supported by family members as they appeared in court over videolink, with Mr Lee's parents and partner present as well as Mr Shepley's mother, sister and brother-in-law.
The prosecution opposed bail for either man, arguing there was a risk they would not attend court and that they would endanger the community.
But Magistrate Shields found that those risks were not unacceptable. He ultimately granted bail on strict conditions which are akin to house arrest.
Neither Mr Lee nor Mr Shepley can leave their house unless accompanied by a parent and only for court, reporting to police, legal consultations and seeking medical attention.
Video Footage of Common Assault Goes Viral on Instagram
The fight was filmed by a bystander on a mobile phone and posted on Instagram. That footage was obtained by police and played to Central Local Court on the bail application of Mr Lee and Mr Shepley.
The video depicted a wild brawl between a group of adult men and teenage girls at Pyrmont's Pirrama Park.
Magistrate Shields said the fight seemed to "explode out of nowhere" and noted Mr Lee - identified by his criminal defence lawyer as "the shirtless man" - could be seen striking a person on the ground in the final seconds of the video.
Mr Lee's lawyer for affray charges said his client "runs in" to the fracas and is "clearly assaulted before he lays hands on anyone".
But Magistrate Shields replied that Mr Lee had "no reason to be there at all" and had "chosen to involve himself in a violent incident".
Co-Accused Previously Assaulted Female
Co-accused Jesse Mackenzie - whose assault lawyers did not apply for bail on his behalf - is alleged to have punched a 16-year-old girl in the face before dragging her five metres by the hair over a small ledge.
Mr Mackenzie remains in custody.
At his bail hearing earlier this month the court heard he had a lengthy criminal record and was on five community corrections orders at the time of the brawl.
One of the community corrections orders was made on 26 February 2021 for assaulting another woman in August 2020.
One of the other orders was for breaching an AVO earlier in February. He also had a domestic violence common assault conviction from 2013 where another woman was the victim.
MacKenzie, appearing on video link from Parklea jail, held his head and let out several loud anguished sighs when bail was refused.
If this is your first offence, you will generally be dealt with more leniently by the Court. A list of 10,728 first offence Common Assault sentencing cases in the Local Court suggests that you will be far more likely to receive a Section 10 dismissal if you have no prior record. However, there are still a large amount of individuals who are convicted despite it being their first offence. That is why it is important that you contact an experienced criminal lawyer so that they can prepare your case in such a way that you will be in the best position possible to receive a Section 10.
While it is ultimately up to the Magistrate or Judge as to what common assault sentence you will receive, there are sentencing statistics that can be helpful in providing some guidance. We have obtained a list of 27,618 cases in the Local Court which provide a range:
- Section 10 dismissal: 27%
- Fine: 15%
- Section 9 good behaviour bond: 41%
- Community Service Order: 3%
- Section 12 suspended sentence (no longer used for NSW offences): 5%
- Intensive Corrections Order: 1%
- Home Detention: 0%
- Full Time Imprisonment: 6%
While jail is a possibility, only 6% of offenders are sentenced to full-time imprisonment. More significantly, the overwhelming majority of offenders received convictions for this offence. The rate of convictions increases for domestic violence charges. Contact us now so that we can help you avoid a criminal conviction.
Section 61 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) sets out that common assault is an act whereby a person intentionally or recklessly causes another person to apprehend immediate and unlawful violence.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.