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Call for more jail time as ‘selfish’ AFL grand final border breachers plead guilty

Two “selfish” Victorian men who breached Western Australia’s strict COVID travel laws to go to the AFL grand final and ended up in the rooms of the victorious Melbourne team, have admitted their guilt in court, with the police prosecutor calling for them to receive further jail time.

Key points:

  • Burbank and Babbage both pleaded guilty to three charges
  • The prosecution is calling for an immediate jail term
  • Babbage did not consider the consequences, his lawyer said

Hayden Burbank, 49 and Mark Babbage, 39, appeared in the Perth Magistrates Court today via video link from Hakea Prison where they have been held since their arrest in WA’s South West on September 28.

They appeared separately but both pleaded guilty to three charges of breaching WA’ s COVID laws, and one charge of fraud.

Hayden Burbank and Mark Babbage
Mark Babbage, 39, and Hayden Burbank, 49 celebrated with the Demons after their historic grand final win.(Supplied: WA Police)

Pair fudged documents to enter WA

The court was told they flew into WA three days before the AFL grand final after getting permission to enter the state from Darwin by falsifying documents, including a Northern Territory drivers’ licence and an ANZ bank statement.

They had flown to Darwin eight days earlier from Melbourne, which had a COVID outbreak, but did not declare anywhere on their application to enter WA that they had been in Victoria.

Police prosecutor, Martin Nankivell, said the men attended the AFL grand final where there were more than 61,000 spectators and staff, creating the risk that it could have been “a super spreader event.”

They were also photographed and filmed after the match celebrating with the Melbourne players, staff and other supporters in the rooms.

Sargeant Nankivell described the offences as “selfish”, saying they were aggravated by the dangerous nature of the COVID Delta strain which was in Melbourne , as well as the fact the two men later travelled to regional WA.

A photo of fireworks at dusk at Perth Stadium with blue lights in the background. A photo of fireworks at dusk at Perth Stadium with blue lights in the background.
The men put at risk more than 61,000 spectators, staff and sports stars, the court heard.(Supplied: Krissy Louise)

He said an immediate term of imprisonment was called for to send a message to others who may consider doing the same.

Babbage thought ‘she’ll be right’: lawyer

Babbage’s lawyer, Seamus Raffferty, accepted that a prison term was called for, but urged Magistrate Matthew Holgate to consider suspending it.

He said Babbage fully accepted that he entered WA for the selfish reason of attending the football, but he claimed he simply did not turn his mind to the possible consequences of his actions.

Mr Rafferty told the court while Babbage had flown out of Melbourne, he had come from Mount Hotham which at that time was not in lockdown.

He also said Babbage was fully vaccinated and when he was in the Northern Territory he did get a test for COVID which was negative.

“People became excited. There was one particular side in the grand final that had not been there for a long time,” he said.

“He didn’t think he was hurting anyone, he hadn’t come from an area that was under stay-at-home orders, he didn’t have COVID … he made an appalling decision.

“If he had COVID he would have locked down this state.

“He simply didn’t turn his mind to it … It was the ultimate ‘she’ll be right’.”

Mr Rafferty said Babbage was deeply remorseful for what he’d done, saying he was otherwise of good character and noting that he was an “excellent sportsman” and had represented Australia in skiing.

Babbage will be sentenced later today, while Magistrate Holgate is yet to hear a plea in mitigation for Burbank.