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Police won't charge Woodville Pizza Bar worker


UPDATED: The Woodville Pizza Bar worker at the centre of the state’s controversial COVID lockdown will not be charged, police have revealed this afternoon in a dramatic development.

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The man’s lawyer says he’s now considering what legal action he might be able to take himself against authorities.

Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey – who led Taskforce Protect which was set up to investigate the man’s alleged “lie” about his work arrangements – told reporters there was “insufficient evidence” to charge the 36-year-old Spanish national with any offence because SA Health had “exercised… their obligation to claim privilege” and refused to provide key information.

“The criminal investigation indicated the first conversation with contact tracers was misleading,” Harvey said.

“That conversation was central to information provided by SA Health to decision makers preceding the lockdown.

“The criminal investigation also indicated the male person changed his initial version regarding the simple contact with a pizza box to confirm he had in fact worked at the Woodville Pizza Bar.”

But Harvey said “the exact content, context and intent of the initial conversation between contact tracers and the male person cannot be substantiated”.

“This means the facts of the conversation cannot be presented to a court,” he said.

“Without that first hand account of the conversation between contact tracers and the male person, the taskforce investigators have insufficient evidence to prove an offence.”

SA Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Harvey speaking to the media this afternoon. Photo: Stephanie Richards/InDaily

The man, in SA on a graduate visa which expires this month, was accused by Premier Steven Marshall of “lying” to contact tracers, with Police Commissioner Grant Stevens insisting a statewide lockdown would not have occurred but for the misinformation.

Authorities initially believed the man, who also worked in the kitchen of the Stamford medi-hotel, had ordered a takeaway pizza from the pizza bar – a key location in the outbreak of the so-called Parafield COVID cluster – but later discovered he had worked several shifts there.

This prompted Stevens to announce the formation of a major police taskforce, saying at the time it would be “investigating all the circumstances relating to the information that was provided to contact tracing teams and circumstances which led to us being in the position we are now”.

The man’s lawyer – Scott Jelbert, Principal of Camena Legal and Migration – said he was waiting to take instructions from his client to determine what – if any – legal action he could take against authorities “if he wants to do that”.

“I’m now better poised to advise with respect to legal action he may be able to bring,” he told InDaily.

Jelbert said there were two main courses of action his client could potentially take if he wanted to sue.

“One is breach of confidentiality under some form of statute legislation or at common law,” he said.

“Or alternatively some sort of defamation, but I’m not sold on that just yet.”

Jelbert said his client had been “scapegoated”.

“It was convenient at the time to package this up and sell it to the public this way,” he said.

“I will have a long chat to him about what this all means.”

Jelbert said his client wanted “to go back to the life he had”.

“I have made it clear to him I don’t think that’s ever going to happen,” he said.

“He has been all but named. How can he ever walk down the street again or meet new friends?

“I am hopeful the formal decision not to prosecute will weigh on the Premier to revisit the earlier comments because that has really affected the public opinion.

“Everyone wants to march him down to the airport and get rid of him. I have seen some comments saying they have got the appropriate bullet for him.”

Jelbert previously told InDaily he was watching developments closely and had sensed “double standards” in the Government’s approach to other cases.

The man previously issued a statement through his lawyer expressing “extreme remorse” and saying he was “deeply sorry for any part his conduct played in any unnecessary lock-down actions”.

Jelbert’s statement said: “I am however instructed that some information is not fair, accurate or complete notwithstanding the State Government’s comments, and he is concerned he has been all but publicly named.”

Harvey said investigators had had trouble getting some key information from SA Health because of confidentiality “privilege” between contact tracers and the man.

“There’s only one way to say this – SA Health have exercised what they say is their obligation to claim privilege and not provide information to the investigators,” he said.

“Our line of investigation is essentially finished.”

Despite this, Harvey insisted the work done by SA Health overall on the pandemic had been “stellar”.

“We’re in a safe place,” he said.

“This is just one little issue. They’re doing a stellar job, this is just business.”

The police taskforce was also hoping to speak to two other people connected to the Woodville Pizza Bar, but Harvey told reporters “they have exercised their rights to silence”.

He refused to comment on whether there were any other investigations ongoing in relation to the pizza bar.

“I make no comment about any other matter other than this,” Harvey said.

“I’m glad that it’s over so we can get back to investigations still on our plate.”

In a statement, SA Health said its “primary aim” was “to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our community and protect South Australians from the virus”.

“All health information obtained by the team is confidential and privileged and treated the same way that patient information is held and protected,” the statement said.

“As outlined in the Public Health Act, information is only shared where reasonably required to prevent a public health risk.

“The only role of the contact tracing team is to gather information to determine who else may be at risk, locations of concern, and restricting movements of people through quarantine if necessary.

“In undertaking contact tracing, we not only aim to protect public health as a whole, but also to support people with suspected or confirmed infection to ensure they get prompt and appropriate medical care.”

SA Health further said “the information that South Australians have generously provided during the pandemic has been crucial to keeping our community safe”.

“We urge every South Australian to have the confidence to share detailed information with the contact tracing team if we are to succeed in fighting this pandemic,” the statement said.

A Government spokesperson said “the investigation is now concluded and the Government notes the findings”.

The taskforce included 20 detectives and at one point had 36 officers examining more than 400 hours of CCTV from another medi-hotel – Peppers on Waymouth St.

SA Police has refused to disclose the cost of the investigation.

SA Best MLC Frank Pangallo has called on Marshall and Stevens to personally apologise to the man.

“This outcome shows that the conduct in shaming and demonising him was a disgrace and over the top,” Pangallo said on Twitter.

“The Premier and Police Commissioner should follow the class act of Professor Spurrier and personally apologise.”

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