CONTENT WARNING: This article may distress some readers.
After footage of a driver crashing his car into three police officers, sending them flying and leaving them with injuries, was played to a courtroom, Canberra’s chief justice said it was clearly a crime that had “caused a great deal of hurt” to many in the police force.
The three police officers had just conducted a routine traffic stop near the National Arboretum at the intersection of Forest and Lady Denman drives on the afternoon of 11 July 2021.
The footage shows they were standing off the road when the car, driven by Thomas Matthews, smashed into them.
Matthews was driving at about 18 km/h when he hit them. Two officers were thrown onto the car’s bonnet, one smashing his head and back onto the windscreen and the other was propelled to the ground. The third officer’s leg was trapped under a wheel.
Matthews, who was then aged 30 and had recently been diagnosed with schizophrenia, was seen stopping his car and opening his door before the footage ended.
One officer suffered three fractures to her leg, another received a spinal fracture while the third had a large bruise.
The large gallery of the ACT Supreme Court was half-filled with uniformed police officers who came to watch Matthews’ sentence hearing on Tuesday (28 February). When the footage was played, the sound of crying could be heard from among the sea of light-blue uniforms.
Matthews pleaded guilty to two counts of causing grievous bodily harm by a negligent act last November and was granted bail after spending nearly 500 days behind bars.
The negligent act he admitted to had two aspects: continuing to drive even though he knew he didn’t feel well due to the excessive medications he was on and the manner in which he steered his car off the road.
“I deeply regret the decision to drive,” he wrote in a letter to the court.
His barrister, Jack Pappas, said his client’s body had still been adjusting to his combined course of medications and he had not been warned that he shouldn’t be driving.
“This young man was mentally very unwell,” he said.
Crown prosecutor Anthony Williamson SC argued Matthews had been experiencing blurred vision and blackouts and knew he shouldn’t be driving but still chose to do so anyway.
Experts reported he made “a very poor attempt” to pull over while driving as he had been affected by an oncoming blackout, he said.
Mr Williamson accepted the three-drug combination that Matthews was on should not have been prescribed to him.
Mr Pappas argued his client’s moral culpability was so low that no period of imprisonment should be imposed at all when he was sentenced. While Mr Williamson said he was not arguing that Matthews needed to be returned to prison, that option was still open to Chief Justice Lucy McCallum.
The chief justice continued the 31-year-old’s bail. He will be sentenced on 17 March.