By Michael Giles

IN A sensational outcome to the protracted police drugs case against former South Gippsland Shire Councillor Jeremy Rich, which followed a police raid at his Walkerville property in April 2019, all serious charges were dropped, and a “relatively minor” matter proceeded at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court on Friday this week.

In the end, Mr Rich, 47, was placed on an 18-month good behaviour undertaking, without conviction, potentially leaving him free to run for council, should he so wish, in October this year.

In fact, according to Magistrate Guillaume Bailin, it was only as a result of Mr Rich’s presence, sleeping in the bedroom at the farmhouse, where there were bags containing 7.12kg of cannabis, when police arrived at 8.10am on Monday, April 15, that the possession charge was made out at all.

A co-accused man was also asleep in another bed in the room when police arrived and was previously convicted and fined $2000 on a charge of possession.

Another charge, relating to possession of a small amount of THC (0.3gm of hash oil) also proceeded against Mr Rich as the only two remaining from 15 charges, including serious trafficking and weapons possession charges, “hanging over his head” for the past 28 months.

It was part of the plea by prominent Melbourne barrister Paul Galbally that the impact of this delay on Mr Rich’s life over the past two years, should be taken into account when Magistrate Bailin handed down his penalty.

It was during his summary, after finding Mr Rich guilty of what he termed “relatively minor charges” that Magistrate Bailin said he was carefully considering the issue of “conviction” but ultimately decided that it would be a better outcome for the community if Mr Rich was free to continue serving his community as he had done in the past.

He placed Mr Rich on a personal undertaking to be of good behaviour for 18 months, ordered that he pay $750 to two charities, the residential rehabilitation program Odyssey House and YSAS (Youth Substance Abuse Service).

“There is no allegation that you placed them there (the drugs) or used them only that they were there when you were there, which makes out the charge of possession… for one terrible decision in an otherwise blameless life, I will give you this one chance to prove that over the next 18 months you are able to be of good behaviour.

“Will you obey the law and take the opportunity to give back to the community Mr Rich?”

“Yes, I will your honour,” Mr Rich said via video link.

Magistrate Bailin had said earlier that the incident was a “breach or trust” by a person in a position of leadership in the community who “would have regard to the pernicious nature of drugs in the community”.

Previously, in July 2019, a co-accused, 34-year-old man from Bentleigh East, received a custodial sentence of 12 months in relation to the more serious charges of trafficking and cultivation.