Image for Forestry Tasmania supervisor turned back on contractors sledgehammer attack

First came a torrent of abuse and then Gunns logging contractor, Rod Howells, used his sledgehammer to smash the rear window of the gutted car blocking a logging access road in the Florentine valley. Lying terrified inside the car on the morning of October 21, 2008 were two forest activists, Miranda Gibson and Nishant Datt, who had locked on to a pipe underneath the car floor.

No sooner had Howell smashed the car’s rear window than Scott Marriott, a Forest Supervisor with 15 years experience with Forestry Tasmania, decided it was time to leave. In evidence to a hearing in the Hobart Magistrates Court on assault charges against Howells and two of his employees, Terrence Pearce and Jeremey Eiszelle, Marriott explained he turned away from the car and walked back down the logging road to his own vehicle to phone his boss. (The three have pleaded not guilty).

Marriott stated that just before launching the attack that Howells was “angry” and yelling at the forest protestors in the car and another group nearby. He also stated that when he was on the way back to his car, other contractors passed him as they headed up towards the protest site and car. He was not asked why he didn’t stay at the protest site and try to prevent the attack escalating further.

But with Marriott gone, Howells and other contractors launched an all-out assault on the car, proceeding to smash the remaining windows and then kick at the car panels. With the windows being smashed around them, Gibson and Datt unlocked themselves from the pipes to get out of the car. Gibson scrambled out of the rear window while Datt started to get out where the passenger side window had been. Datt alleges that he was part way out of the window when he was pulled out by contractors and then kicked in the head. (One of the contractors lawyers suggested that Datt fell out of the window when he was trying to get out and that he wasn’t pulled out at all).

Earlier in evidence Marriott explained that part of his responsibilities was supervising logging operations and that the protocol was that when confronted with a protest, FT staff were required to inform their superiors. Contractors, he said, were to make their equipment safe and move away from the site. However, Marriott stated that while he could direct FT contractors, that as Howells was a Gunns contractor any direction to him would have to have come from a Gunns supervisor.

Marriot also told the court that before Howells started smashing the car windows, he had told Datt and Gibson that Police would not be attending the protest and that they had three seconds to get out of the car. In evidence he agreed that, as he had been unable to phone out, he was unaware of what police intended to do but was hoping the bluff would have the effect of getting the protesters out of the car. (On its website, Forestry Tasmania states that it aims to “build community trust through honest dialogue”.) Within seconds of his warning, Howells smashed the first car window and Marriot walked away.

The hearing has been adjourned to 10am on May 6.

Earlier:

A TASMANIAN logging contractor admitted he “went on a rampage” when protesters blocked a forestry road, a court has heard.
Rodney Arthur Howells, 51, of Orford, told police in a video-recorded interview that he used a sledgehammer to smash up an old car while two protesters were inside the vehicle which blocked a road in the Upper Florentine Valley.

“Something must’ve just clicked . . . I just f…ing went off,” Mr Howells told police in the interview, which was played in the Hobart Magistrates Court yesterday.

Mr Howells and two of his employees, Jeremy Leigh Eiszele and Terrence Michael Pearce, have pleaded not guilty to assaulting Nishant Datt and Miranda Gibson on October 21, 2008.
Forestry worker admits rampage: HERE

Picture: From left, Rod Howells (front left), Terrence Pearce (centre) and Jeremey Eiszelle (right rear) on their way out of court. Photo: Bob Burton.

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