Witness called to Maitland pursuit hearing refuses to answer questions after alleged threat

Maitland court house.
Maitland court house.

A man has refused to answer questions in court because of fears for his safety.

He appeared as a witness during the first day of a hearing into a police pursuit that took place in Maitland the same night a Hunter police officer died.

Paul Robert Johnson was charged with a string of driving offences, including reckless driving and driving while disqualified, after a police pursuit through the Maitland area on March 5.

Sergeant Geoffrey Richardson was on his way to respond to the pursuit when he was killed in a single-vehicle crash at Allandale.

But Mr Johnson says he is innocent of the charges. His solicitor Chris O’Brien spent the first day of the hearing in Maitland local court on Tuesday questioning witnesses and arguing that another man was behind the wheel of the white sedan during the chase.

The man Mr O’Brien argued was the driver of the car during the pursuit, Kenneth McDonald, refused to answer questions when called to the witness box.

Mr McDonald, who was already in custody, sat handcuffed as he told Magistrate John Chicken that his life had been threatened so he would not participate with cross-examination.

When Mr Chicken warned Mr McDonald about being charged with contempt of court for refusing to answer questions, the prisoner asked: “are you going to tell my kids what happened to me?”

Ultimately, Mr Chicken decided not to send Mr McDonald to the Supreme Court to face a possible contempt charge.

“I’m not going to refer you for one reason and one reason only – that is you are already in custody,” he said.

The magistrate said he had been around the criminal justice system long enough to understand the “summary justice” that could be inflicted by other prisoners.

It came at the end of a stop-start day in court that involved five adjournments, witnesses who claimed to have had their memory adversely affected by drug use, evidence that contradicted earlier statements to police, reference to motor vehicle trades and the theft of a gold watch as well as an allegation of police heavy-handedness during the arrest of Mr Johnson – which police vehemently refuted.

Police involved in the pursuit on March 5 and arrest on March 7 answered questions from prosecution and defence.

The court also saw dash cam footage from a highway patrol car that abandoned a pursuit with a white sedan on the New England Highway at Lochinvar two days before the March 5 chase.

When the matter was first mentioned in court in August, Magistrate John Chicken said Sergeant Richardson’s death could not be considered an aggravating factor in dealing with Mr Johnson’s charges.

The hearing will continue on Wednesday.