Shaun Rudder – the man accused of brutally bashing two women on Boxing Day last year – has walked free after a magistrate labelled the alleged victims “unreliable” and found Mr Rudder had acted in self defence.
Mr Rudder, 26, of Tanilba Bay, was found not guilty of two counts of assault occasioning actual bodily harm in Newcastle Local Court on Monday.
Minutes later, Mr Rudder walked free from Newcastle courthouse after having spent more than eight months in custody, accused of assaulting Brittany Merrick and her friend, Brittany Norris, during a night out in Newcastle on Boxing Day, 2015.
The verdict has deeply shocked Ms Merrick, who became a symbol in the fight against violence towards women after sharing images of her bruised and battered face online.
Meanwhile, Mr Rudder was embraced by family and friends only metres from where the alleged assault occurred on King Street.
“It’s all over now and I get to go home with my family,” an emotional Mr Rudder said outside court.
“I’m glad the truth came out.
“I can’t describe it in words. “It’s eight months I’ll never get back.”
After a two-day hearing, the first of which was held in May, Magistrate Andrew Eckhold found Ms Merrick and Ms Norris were “unreliable” witnesses, given their level of intoxication on the night and their inaccuracies in relation to an initial incident between Ms Merrick and Mr Rudder that occurred inside Finnegan’s Hotel.
The initial exchange between Ms Merrick and Mr Rudder occurred in the smoking area of the hotel when Mr Rudder called Ms Merrick “a psycho”, the court heard.
Mr Eckhold watched CCTV footage of what happened next and found that Ms Merrick had assaulted Mr Rudder by grabbing him to the throat and throwing him to the ground.
“It shows an extraordinary level of physical capacity by Ms Merrick in terms of the assault that she performed upon Mr Rudder,” Mr Eckhold said of the CCTV footage.
Mr Rudder told the court he then spat at Ms Merrick, who had to be held back by security guards as she tried to assault him, the court heard.
Mr Rudder was kicked out, followed by Ms Merrick and Ms Norris, who started walking towards the King Street Hotel.
The prosecution claimed that Mr Rudder was “lying in wait” for the pair outside the hotel and sent a text saying “behind you” before striking Ms Norris to the back of the head.
Ms Merrick went to help her flatmate but was allegedly punched in the head at least three times and knocked unconscious, the prosecution had claimed.
But defence barrister Peter Harper submitted that Mr Rudder had acted in self defence in relation to the alleged assault on Ms Merrick and had never touched Ms Norris.
Mr Eckhold agreed, citing the inaccuracies in evidence from Ms Norris about what occurred inside Finnegan’s Hotel and Ms Merrick’s level of violence in the first fight with Mr Rudder.
“The complainants are simply not reliable in relation to what is said to have occurred inside Finnegan’s in a way that would allow me to rely upon them as to what occurred outside Finnegan’s,” he said.
Magistrate Eckhold said he could not take “gender” into account during his deliberations.
“It is not something that I can take account of, I think,” he said. “I have to look upon this as it if was either gender neutral, or two men, or perhaps two women. “It’s just not a factor. “There is a social norm that a man doesn’t hit a woman and I have to put that social norm aside. “It might work in the favour of the defendant, because it might be that he felt some embarrassment of what occurred inside Finnegan’s nightclub because he is a man and he was taken down by a woman.”