Bike rider with no helmet forced to pay victim's levy

FUND: Scone’s Sue Abbott.  –  Picture by Simone De Peak
FUND: Scone’s Sue Abbott. – Picture by Simone De Peak

SUE Abbott reckons there could only be one victim of her ‘‘crime’’ of failing to wear a bicycle helmet – herself.

In nearly half a century of riding she has not come off and the mother of four, who rides at a gentle jogging speed in the Hunter Valley town of Scone, says it is absurd her decision not to wear a helmet has led to her being ordered to pay $67 into a special fund to support victims of crime.

Her refusal to pay the levy, begun to help rehabilitate victims of mainly violent crimes, resulted in the government cancelling her driver’s licence.

Now the region’s sheriff has told her he has no choice but to seize her possessions so they can be auctioned to pay the levy, which has grown to $213.

What really irritates Ms Abbott is that a District Court judge sided with her when she argued she would be at greater risk of brain damage from ‘‘diffuse axonal injury’’ (likened to shaken baby syndrome) from a fall when wearing a helmet than if her head was bare.

In 2010, Judge Roy Ellis struck out a $50 fine the Scone Magistrates Court imposed on Ms Abbott for not wearing a helmet. The judge found that Ms Abbott had ‘‘an honestly held and not unreasonable belief as to the danger associated with the use of a helmet by cyclists’’.

Although he found the offence of not wearing a helmet proven, the judge quashed her conviction.

Yet Ms Abbott was still ordered to pay the levy as the former Labor government changed the law in its dying days so that even people who had their convictions quashed under the Crimes Act provisions still had to pay the crime victims levy.

Attorney-General Greg Smith agreed the Labor amendments were unjust and he had changed them so the law now exempted defendants such as her from paying the levy if their convictions were quashed. But the changes would not apply to Ms Abbott.