FORMER Warrnambool councillor Jennifer Lowe and her husband Robbie were yesterday committed to stand trial on theft-related charges.
After hearing further submissions most of yesterday, magistrate Ann McGarvie said she was satisfied there was a substantial prosecution case against the Lowes.
The case was adjourned for a directions hearing in Geelong on May 24 before it is expected to be set down for trial in Warrnambool County Court, possibly later this year in a special sitting. Mr and Mrs Lowe both entered not guilty pleas to all charges.
The committal started on April 2 last year, continued in July and lengthy written submissions were made by defence counsel Damian Sheales and prosecutor Daniel Porceddu late last year.
Those submissions were hotly debated yesterday.
Mrs Lowe, 37, was charged in July 2011 with theft-related offences alleged to have occurred while she was the finance officer with Warrnambool’s Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Co-operative. She was originally charged with 49 theft-related offences involving about $25,000 and her 39-year-old husband faced two representative charges, involving goods valued at just over $17,000 after a two-year police investigation.
The charges jumped to almost 600 alleged offences after the use of a fuel card was broken down into individual transactions on the eve of the committal hearing.
Yesterday, Mr Sheales said the case was being conducted “in parallel universes” and both sides simply couldn’t be right.
He said former co-op chief executive officer John Collyer and his son Shannon made allegations to police that because they didn’t see items purchased, there must have been an offence.
“This is a complete reverse onus,” Mr Sheales said.
“The funniest charge is for a table that no one has ever seen, it’s laughable, there is no photo. It could be at the co-op, could have been there for years but no one knows what it looks like.”
Mr Sheales said Mrs Lowe was allowed to purchase items for the co-op so “the Crown needs to prove Jennifer Lowe acted dishonestly’’.
“It’s like saying she was entitled to buy Monte Carlos but not Shortbread Creams. It borders on the absurd, there is no evidentiary foundation that they can begin to prove a charge.”
But Mr Porceddu said there was evidence that Mrs Lowe did obtain financial advantage by deception.
He said that in relation to some charges there may be a hypothesis consistent with innocence.
“The Crown case has to be taken at its highest,” he said.
“Really, when one looks at the circumstances, both the accused should be committed to stand trial.”