Sunday Territorian

NO SUCH THING AS A FREE LUNCH

Soldiers spent time in clink after claiming meal costs

- JASON WALLS

THREE Darwin soldiers have been forced to spend three weeks in the brig after finding out the hard way that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Privates Tyler James Frost, Indiana Halatau-Puwanai Easthope and James Michael Clarke each pleaded guilty in the Defence Force Magistrate­s Court to obtaining a financial advantage after they were caught out claiming hundreds of dollars in meal allowances they weren’t entitled to.

A fourth soldier, Lance Corporal Corey James Willes, also pleaded guilty to the same charge but avoided spending any time in the slammer after being busted back to private as the total value of his ill-gotten grub was only about $200.

The court heard the four soldiers unlawfully claimed a live-in meal allowance when dining at the Robertson Barracks mess a number of times between 2017 and 2019, with the result that they did not end up paying for those meals.

In sentencing, defence force magistrate (DFM) Group Captain Scott Geeves said each of the men were of otherwise good character, had expressed genuine remorse and had excellent prospects for rehabilita­tion.

“The defendant was dealt with as a first offender who was a quite young and inexperien­ced member of the army at the relevant time and, indeed, at the time of sentence,” a summary of his ruling reads.

“He was also, despite the offending conduct, regarded as a member of otherwise good character.

“The DFM recognised that his plea of guilty was entered at the earliest opportunit­y, that his expression­s of remorse were genuine and that his prospects for rehabilita­tion were excellent, particular­ly given the content of character references from two of his superiors.”

But Capt Geeves said in all but the case of Corp Willes, the only punishment that would send a suitable message was for the men to spend some time in the can.

“However, this type of conduct was, in the DFM’s view, wholly inconsiste­nt with service standards and displayed a lack of integrity,” the summary reads.

“Taking into account the repeated nature of the offending conduct over a not insignific­ant period of time, the need for general deterrence and service discipline to be maintained, the DFM arrived at the conclusion that detention was the minimum sentence that could be imposed that would meet such aims.

“In addition to that punishment, an order for reparation to the Commonweal­th was made.”

Capt Geeves said “given the significan­t nature of the amendments made to the charge upon which (Willes) was dealt”, the entire period of detention should be suspended.

THE DEFENDANT WAS DEALT WITH AS A FIRST OFFENDER WHO WAS A QUITE YOUNG AND INEXPERIEN­CED MEMBER OF THE ARMY

GROUP CAPTAIN SCOTT GEEVES

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