Road blocked, Rally drivers rocked
EDITOR'S NOTE: Since the publication of this article, police have confirmed that despite the initial reports below, protesters did not throw rocks at drivers. For more updated information, see this article.
RADICAL protesters could have killed someone when they blocked a road with boulders and pelted a rally car with rocks at Byrrill Creek, police said yesterday.
Repco Rally Australia officials were forced to cancel two stages starting on Byrrill Creek Road after the incident in order to protect drivers and spectators.
Tweed/Byron police local area and Operation Palisade commander superintendent Michael Kenny vowed anyone involved in the incident would face the full force of the law.
“The protestors involved in this rock-throwing incident have shown total disregard for the safety of competitors and officials involved in this stage of the event,” Supt Kenny said.
According to police the first rally car to drive along stage six of Repco Rally Australia at Byrrill Creek was hit by a number of rocks about 10.40am.
The driver was not injured and two other cars completed the stage before officials cancelled it about an hour later due to safety concerns.
A second running of the stage set for 3pm was also cancelled.
Police from the public order and riot squad cleared the road but were unable to locate the rock- throwers.
Supt Kenny said he made no apologies for coming down hard on anyone considering taking radical action.
“Their behaviour had the potential to seriously injure or kill someone,” he said.
“Protesters 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.”
Inquiries into the incident will continue.
Earlier in the day No Rally Group members held a peaceful protest at the entrance to the Byrrill Creek stage on Kyogle Road.
Tweed Shire Councillor Katie Milne and Greens MLC Ian Cohen were among the crowd.
Police were on hand as protesters shouted and waved signs as competing rally cars arrived for the nearby stage.
Further north, about 50 No Rally Group supporters turned out to a protest organised at Byangum Bridge on Kyogle Rd.
Supporters erected banners reading slogans like “Wreckco” and “WRC Ecovandals”. One sign set up behind a stuffed teddy bear read “Don't kill me”.
Several drivers honked their car horns in support as they drove by, but one pro-rally supporter stopped her car and abused the protesters.
Last night No Rally Group president Scott Sledge said his group had no part in the rock-throwing incident.
“These people aren't part of our group. We heard they placed obstacles on the road but nothing about rock-throwing,” Mr Sledge said.
“We are happy though that Byrrill Creek was spared from the onslaught of the rally.
“However, we do not condone these actions.”
Earlier in the day Mr Sledge encouraged residents living nearby to collect information regarding noise and dust levels during the rally for a database.
“If you have a decibel metre or other measurement equipment, use it, and log the results,” Mr Sledge said.
“As the government fails again to protect us, the community must again take the government's job into its own hands.”