A troubled man who drove his car through a packed Wollongong mall – alarming authorities with his long trenchcoat, mask and references to recent lethal events in Melbourne – has been locked up in the name of public safety.
Police raced to Crown Street Mall Thursday night as John Mark Caddle, 41, of Mangerton, allegedly drove his car at low speed into the site of the popular Eat Street food markets.
Surrounded by hundreds of people, Caddle’s green Hyundai Accent allegedly crept forward at 10-15km/h, travelling 150 metres into the marketplace before he was confronted by Wollongong council security officers.
He allegedly told the officers, “I wanted to prove Melbourne was a fake”.
Startled security staff called Wollongong police, prompting four officers to race to the mall.
Police allegedly found a a long, black trench coat coat, a wig and a skull face mask in a subsequent search of Caddle’s car, and had the following exchange with him:
“Why did you drive through the mall tonight?”
“I wanted to scare people, get them to film it and put it on Facebook. I wanted to show everyone that Melbourne was a fake. No one was killed there. It was all fake … where are the cameras?”
“What incident in Melbourne are you referring to?”
“The incident in Melbourne mall, where the guy killed those people in the mall. That didn’t happen. That was set up. They were all actors.”
“What was your intention tonight?”
“I wanted to prove a point and check the response times of police and emergency services.”
“Why would you do that?”
“Just to see how long you would take to get here.”
The officer later noted Caddle’s “prayer cap” and asked if he was Muslim.
“I have the Qaran at home and I’m reading it … I’m an atheist,” he replied.
Elsewhere in his exchanges with police, Caddle allegedly said his intention was to intimidate members of the public. But he pointedly denied he intended to hurt anyone.
Caddle was arrested and charged with menacing driving, armed with intent to commit indictable offence, and intimidation.
He appeared by video link at Wollongong Local Court on Friday, seeking bail.
His lawyer, Matthew Barnes, told the court his client suffered schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
“It’s a matter where there are mental health issues that are longstanding and particularly acute most recently,” Mr Barnes said, adding this was despite medication and his client having increased his appointments with his doctor from monthly to weekly.
Caddle repeatedly interjected as Magistrate Susan McGowan considered his bid for freedom.
“The [alleged] facts are horrifying. Absolutely horrifying,” the magistrate said, at which point Caddle cut in.
“I think they’re funny,” he said.
“That proves my point really,” the magistrate continued.
“It’s obvious that Mr Caddle does have mental health issues … and obviously they need to be addressed, but the paramount concern needs to be the safety of the community.”
The court heard Caddle was known among area authorities for his penchant for costume and history of attention-seeking behaviour seemingly designed to bring about interaction with authorities.
Police cite numerous instances of him having dressed up in role-playing costumes in public, complete with plastic weapons.
Police stopped him as recently as Thursday morning, when he was spotted carrying a plastic sword near Novotel North Beach.
Bail was refused. The matter returns to court February 22.