Police investigations are continuing after protest activity resulted in the cancellation of a stage of the Repco Rally this morning.
About 10am police received reports that boulders had been placed on the roadway along the Byrill Creek stage of the Rally. Police from the Public Order and Riot Squad (PORS) attended the area and removed the boulders.
Officers conducted a patrol of the surrounding area with assistance from PolAir, however, no one was located at the scene.
About 10.40am the first rally car to drive along the Byrill Creek stage was hit by a number of rocks. Whilst the driver of the car was not injured in the incident, organisers of the rally stopped the stage due to concerns for the safety of the drivers and spectators.
Police from the Public Order and Riot Squad, with assistance from PolAir, again attended the scene and made a further search of the area, but were unable to locate the rock throwers due to the thick bushland.
Inquiries into the incident continue.
“While police respect individual’s rights to protest, we will not tolerate the behaviour that has been displayed today,” said Superintendent Michael Kenny, Operation Palisade Commander.
“The protestors involved in this rock throwing incident have shown total disregard for the safety of competitors and officials involved in today’s stage of the event. Their behaviour had the potential to seriously injure or kill someone.
“Protestors involved in today’s incident, and anyone considering involvement in any further unlawful protest activity, can be assured that police will find them and they will face the full force of the law.
“I will make no apologies for coming down hard on anyone considering radical action. Protestors who abide by the law have nothing to fear, however, any action that is unlawful will not be tolerated nor will any action that endangers people’s safety.
“The safety of competitors, officials, spectators and the general public is of paramount concern to myself, as well as my officers. Police will use the full force of the law to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the event.”
Operation Palisade has been formed to manage the policing response during the World Rally Championships – 2009 Australia Round (3-6 September 2009) within the Tweed/Byron and Richmond Local Area Commands. Operation Palisade utilises staff from numerous Local Area Commands, as well as the Public Order and Riot Squad, PolAir and Traffic Services Branch.
In a brief press release, rally organisers said: “Officials of Repco Rally Australia have cancelled two Special Stage competitive sections on today’s scheduled program of the World Rally Championship round.
“This morning’s Special Stage 6 (CTEK East 1), which started at 10.37, was cancelled because of safety concerns for spectators and drivers. Police said they had reports that boulders had been placed on the road and the first rally car on the road was hit by a number of rocks.
“Later they cancelled a second running (CTEK East II) of the 11.33km stage on Byrill Creek Road, at the eastern end of the course. The stage had been due to run at 3.03 pm.
“Crews resumed the scheduled itinerary from SS12 (Mooball II) at 4.05pm.”
The Tweed Super Special Stage at Murwillumbah was due to start as scheduled at 6.30pm.
Meanwhile, the No Rally Group says it is celebrating a positive start to its weekend of peaceful protest activities against the WRC Repco Rally.
“Sebastian Loeb and Daniel Sordo stopped and chatted with locals about the beauty of the region and the nature of good government, after the news that the Byrill Creek stage had been abandoned gave them some free time in their busy schedule,” said No Rally Group spokesperson Dr Fiona McCormick.
“Over 100 people gathered at the picturesque Byangum Bridge before heading out to stage further protests.
“At Byrill Creek, where residents’ access to their homes was blocked for much of the day, the stage was forced to be abandoned by cows on the route. There were also reports that rocks had been thrown onto the road.
“While I understand the anger felt by some locals at the stripping of their rights by the Motor Sports Bill and their treatment by the rally organisers, the No Rally Group does not condone any action which may put anyone at risk.
“We have no wish to add to the already insanely dangerous nature of this so-called sport.
“Loeb and Sordo, the top WRC drivers, had completed the stage before the route was closed. However, on the liaison route to the next stage, their teams made a decision to stop driving rather than follow behind protesters’ vehicles driving at safe speeds, or illegally overtake them.”
“What a beautiful area. I’d like to come back here, just for a holiday,” Dr McCormick said Loeb had said as he chatted with NRG members by the side of Kyogle Road.
She said that when informed that he was racing through World Heritage areas because the NSW Government had passed special legislation overriding 12 laws, Loeb said that he had had no idea of this and had said ‘I cannot believe that they would get away with this’.
“The drivers seemed relaxed, and Loeb was pleased that he had seen a koala,” Dr McCormick said.
PICTURES: Action from day two of Rally Australia (courtesy of Rally Australia); and Sebastien Loeb and Dani Sordo meet with protestors (courtesy of No Rally Group).