Riot case family to pay costs, apologise

Craigh McNeill entering court in Sydney this week. Photo: Nat Bromhead Photography
Craigh McNeill entering court in Sydney this week. Photo: Nat Bromhead Photography

THE family at the centre of the infamous so-called Yamba riot will be forced to publicly apologise to the NSW Police Force after a claim for damages backfired and exposed a sinister plot to damage the reputation of local officers.

Craigh McNeill, his wife Maxine and their two children Dylan and Codie will foot their own legal costs and take out two newspaper advertisements to say sorry to officers who were pelted with bricks the night a squad car was torched at a teenage party.

The McNeills had claimed police were trespassing the night hell broke loose at the Yamba Industrial Estate and that several of those arrested were victims of police brutality and reputational damage.

But just days into what was expected to be a lengthy trial, an embarrassing stint in the witness box left Mr McNeill and his family with little choice but to withdraw.

Coffs/Clarence Superintendent Mark Holahan said yesterday police had, from the beginning, agreed that they would "fight the case to the end" and despite years of setbacks, justice had finally prevailed.

"Let the games begin".

With those words, Craigh McNeill launched an attack on police which would have ramifications for years to come.

The arrest of the Yamba father, his son Dylan and several of his children's teenage friends on Valentine's Day, 2010 made headlines and shocked the local community but it would be another four years before the real court battle began.

Following a decision in the local court, all those arrested were acquitted and Mr McNeill and his family hatched a plan to sue the NSW Police Force for damages.

But when their day in court finally came, things didn't go to plan.

Mr McNeill had claimed that he had tried to extinguish the fire with a bucket of water but a video played in court showed that the contents of the bucket appeared to have caused the fire to flare, not go out.

He said he had tried to calm the revellers down and stop them from being destructive but the court heard that out of the 107 people who gave statements to police after the party, not one could recall Mr McNeill asking them to stop what they were doing.

In the statement of claim, Dylan alleged police had told him he was "going to be raped" at Grafton Jail.

In the early stages of his evidence, Mr McNeill denied having any conversation with his former co-accused about his plan to sue the police.

A recording played in court revealed Codie's boyfriend Robert "Robdug" Harvey can be heard saying to another "Craigh says, 'Just pretend you got raped … you'll get an extra 100 grand on there'."

Asked why he would have given that advice, Mr McNeill replied he had only said it "as a joke".

The case was suddenly adjourned on Monday for legal argument and on Tuesday morning the McNeills confirmed they would not be pursuing the case.

Speaking to The Daily Examiner yesterday, Supt Holahan said he had lost a number of officers to psychological issues following the events of the night.

He said police were "only human" and he was relieved the case had finally been brought to an end.

Reflecting on a situation which he said "police anywhere in the state could be faced with at any time", Supt Holahan said the party was indicative of a growing trend among young people to lose control and lose respect and urged parents to be more vigilant when it came to teenagers and alcohol.

An overview of the case will appear in this Saturday's Daily Examiner.

Topics:  apology court police riot sydney yamba

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