IT was right on closing time on a night in June, 2017, when two men armed with a sledgehammer and a shortened shotgun smashed their way into the Abermain Bowling Club, tied up a female staff member and stole nearly $16,000 in cash.
And now, after a more than three-and-a-half year legal saga - a process so drawn out that it required a blanket suppression order to get it over the line and included two aborted trials, a hung-jury, two more apparent attempts to get the trial aborted and two other false starts - the Newcastle Herald can reveal those two men were Joel Brendon Shoesmith and Brent William Henderson.
Shoesmith's identity was never much of a secret; he pleaded guilty to armed robbery and in April, 2019, was jailed for a maximum of seven years, with a non-parole period of four years.
But Henderson, as well as Paris Labry, a former barmaid who last week was acquitted of concealing from police that Henderson had held-up the Abermain Bowling Club and in 2019 was convicted of conspiring to hold-up Weston's Criterion Hotel, were subject to repeated trials over the last three years in one of the more protracted legal sagas in recent memory.
It all started late on the night of June 19, 2017, when Shoesmith, armed with a sledgehammer, and Henderson, who had a firearm, smashed through a glass door into the Armidale Street club. The men confronted a female staff member as she was preparing to close up for the night, forced her to the ground, tied her arms and legs with gaffer tape and ransacked the tills.
They then untied the staff member, took her to an ATM to empty the cash boxes and then forced her to open 19 poker machines. The pair then emptied the contents of the machines into bags. In total, they stole nearly $16,000. The staff member was then tied to a table leg and the pair fled to a Nissan Pulsar, which was later found burnt out. Shoesmith was arrested the next day and later pleaded guilty.
While Henderson and Labry were arrested three months later and Henderson was charged with the bowling club armed robbery as well as conspiring to rob Weston's Criterion Hotel.
Labry was charged with conspiring to rob the Criterion - where she had worked as a barmaid - and concealing the fact that Henderson had robbed the Abermain Bowling Club.
The pair were first committed for trial in May, 2018, but that trial was aborted when media published potentially prejudicial images. The second trial was also aborted when a prosecutor became sick.
Eventually, the third trial - which was subject to a suppression order to avoid any further disruptions - went the distance, but the jury were deadlocked over whether Henderson was the man armed with the gun and, therefore, whether Labry had concealed that fact from police. The pair were both found guilty of conspiring to rob the Criterion Hotel and Henderson was jailed for two years, while Labry received a two-year intensive correction order (ICO).
Because he had served two years awaiting trial, Henderson was released from jail on bail pending the re-trial on the Abermain Bowling Club armed robbery on the day of his sentence.
The bowling club robbery trial was due to begin again in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic and other priority trials meant two trial dates came and went without a start. And then in July last year, while still on bail awaiting the re-trial, Henderson was arrested and refused bail after police allegedly found drugs and explosive devices at a home at Weston. Henderson pleaded not guilty and was later acquitted after a hearing in Cessnock Local Court. Labry was also locked up, accused of breaching the conditions of her ICO.
Finally, late last month, Henderson and Labry made it to trial again.
But at the conclusion of the prosecution case, Judge Peter Whitford, SC, gave the jury a direction to find Labry not guilty.
On Monday, her lawyers, barrister Philip Massey and solicitor Mark Ramsland, were successful in making a costs application, covering the entire three years of proceedings. But it's not all good news for Labry.
She remains behind bars accused of defrauding bushfire and COVID-19 disaster relief grants by allegedly registering fake Australian Business Numbers or using ABNs linked to legitimate businesses in order to dupe the state government into transferring her $60,000 over a nearly four-month period.
Labry has not entered pleas to the fraud matters and is due back in Cessnock Local Court tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Henderson was found guilty of committing the armed robbery; the jury this time satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he was the man armed with the firearm who, alongside Shoesmith, stormed the bowling club and terrorised the female staff member.
But the trial, true to form, did not end without some late drama. First, after sitting through a week-long trial and closing addresses, Henderson claimed he knew one of the jurors in a bid to get the trial aborted again. It didn't work.
And then, while the jury were deliberating, a Facebook post, purporting to be from a witness telling the jury to find Henderson guilty, was brought to the judge's attention. Police are said to be investigating what is believed to be another attempt to have the trial aborted. Henderson will face a sentence hearing in Newcastle District Court on Thursday.
And, in perhaps the best illustration of how protracted the proceedings became, while Henderson prepares to begin what will no doubt be a lengthy jail term, Shoesmith is preparing to be paroled.