Bikie charges downgraded

FIVE Rebels bikies accused of the extortion of two Maryborough body piercing shop owners were yesterday cleared of the charges.

Instead, Wide Bay Rebels (pictured in order below) president Adam McCrea, 44, Gary Hyland, 49, Mark Berghofer, 47, Sean Foster, 47, and Peter Hill, 41, will go to trial in the Hervey Bay District Court charged with unlawfully threatening Khristopher and Emma Bust.

The men are accused of showing up at the Busts' new Kent Street business on December 6 last year and warning them not to open their store, which McCrea allegedly deemed to be a threat to his own tattoo and piercing shop in Hervey Bay.

After hearing evidence from 11 witnesses over four days of committal proceedings, Magistrate Graeme Tatnell yesterday found there was not a sufficient case to charge the men with extortion and instead replaced it with the lesser charge.

Witnesses have alleged that the Rebels threatened to throw the Busts through a window and told them “they'd signed their death card” on the day in question.

The court also heard the men “surrounded” Mr Bust in an aggressive manner and used their colours to intimidate him.

The Busts went on to open Empire Body Piercing which later burned to the ground in an alleged arson attack.

The court was told Mr Bust asked staff at several neighbouring businesses to watch over his store before December 6 because he'd “had trouble” with the local Rebels chapter.

Shopkeeper Glenn Mackie, 45, told the court he had seen the five men approach Mr and Ms Bust outside their store that day.

But it was only two months later, on the night of the fire, that he actually spoke to the couple about what had happened.

“He said he didn't take their warning, so they took him out,” Mr Mackie said. “I asked him: 'How do you know that?' And he said: 'You were there on that Saturday at 12 o'clock.'”

Mr Mackie told the court Ms Bust was visibly distressed that night and had told him she'd “had enough”.

“She was in the ambulance getting some sort of treatment,” he said. “She said: 'We've had enough. We're not insured. We're bust. We're going to leave.'”

Mr Mackie later heard the couple had left town and gone back to Toowoomba.

Business owners Daniel McNeil and Veronica McAtee said Mr Bust told them he had been contacted by the Rebels, who he said were not happy about him opening the store.

“He came over and introduced himself to me at the shop ... said he'd run into trouble with some bikers,” Mr McNeil said.

Mr Bust allegedly also told Mr McNeil he had contacted someone higher than McCrea in the Rebels and asked for permission to open the business.

He was told he could if his store did not offer tattoos but, despite this, the head of the local Rebels still had issue with it, Mr McNeil said.

Prosecutor Kathryn Stagoll told the court the extortion charge was warranted when one considered the demand not to open the store coupled with the men's words, actions and clothes.

But Mr Tatnell said the Busts continued to open their store and trade well after the incident and therefore he “wasn't satisfied” there was a case for extortion.

The men were bailed on the condition they have no contact with any witnesses between now and the trial, expected to take place next year.

McCrea has been further charged with stalking and threatening violence to Mr Bust.

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