Alan O’Toole was a man of exemplary character who had never been in trouble with the law – until yesterday.
At 69 years of age, he walked into Wollongong Local Court for the first time in his life to answer a single charge of common assault.
His crime: kicking Wollongong city councillor Greg Petty in the buttocks.
The two have been on opposite sides of a decades-long debate over the future of environmentally sensitive land in Wollongong’s northern suburbs.
O’Toole wants to build a house on a one-hectare parcel of land at Helensburgh he has owned since the ’70s.
Cr Petty says the land should be protected from any development.
The simmering tensions between them boiled over one brisk spring morning last October.
The two were at the Helensburgh Fair when they got into an argument of sorts over the rezoning issue.
Cr Petty bent over to pick up a clipboard knocked off the table; O'Toole couldn't help himself.
He yesterday pleaded guilty to the kick, telling the court he was "deeply ashamed" of his actions. Later, outside the court, he said it was a "spur of the moment" reaction.
The court heard O'Toole was an upstanding citizen who had worked for Qantas nearly his whole life and had never before been in trouble with police.
His lawyer, Ted Bramble, asked magistrate Sharon Holdsworth to show some leniency, adding that O'Toole had already received a roasting over the incident from another higher power: his wife.
Magistrate Holdsworth obliged, saying O'Toole's crime appeared to be in contrast to his "exemplary character", and she was satisfied the act was one "not likely to be repeated".
She found the offence proven but did not record a conviction against O'Toole.
Cr Petty said he was satisfied with the outcome of the proceedings, despite the absence of a conviction.
He maintained bringing the assault before the court was a matter of principle and sent a message to others in the community that such acts would not be tolerated.
"Intimidation, violence or threats are no way to act towards any member of the community, let alone a publicly elected official," he said.