The mother and daughter at the centre of an infamous supermarket brawl have had their convictions for affray charges quashed on appeal.
61-year-old Treiza Bebawy and her 23-year-old daughter, Meriam Bebawy, made worldwide headlines after being filmed in a supermarket fight over toilet paper.
This was in the midst of panic buying at the height of the pandemic.
The pair were found guilty and received criminal convictions in the Local Court.
However, on appeal the findings of guilt were set aside and the two women escaped without a criminal record.
On 7 March 2020, the mother & daughter attended Chullora Woolworths in south-west Sydney.
At the time there were massive shortages of toilet paper due to a spate of panic buying.
The pair placed eight jumbo packs of Quilton toilet paper into their trolley. Other persons in the supermarket were said to be remonstrating with Treiza Bebawy about the amount of toilet paper she had.
49-year-old Tracey Hinckson approached the pair and grabbed one of the 36-roll packs out of their trolley.
The younger Bebawy saw this and gave chase. She "smashed" the toilet paper out of Mrs Hinckson's hands. The older Bebawy then joined in and a brawl ensued.
The incident was recorded by another shopper on their phone.
Bystanders were said to have heard screaming and yelling during the altercation.
Police Arrest Pair and Conduct Interview
Police arrested the pair and conducted an interview with 23-year-old Meriam Bebawy, who is a healthcare worker.
She told Police that her mother required large amounts of toilet paper for her community daycare, and that the other shoppers were "so aggressive and so rude".
"Then they stopped us from moving, all the staff...they ganged up on us, saying no, you can't take that much, you're selfish," Meriam told police.
"Then (soon after) I felt a punch to my face...then she (Tracy Hinckson) grabbed my hair, so it started. My hands just went flying. I don't know what I was doing. I think I hit her across the face. I thought if I hurt her she'd let go of me, she'd let go of my hair. She just wouldn't let go of my hair, she twisted me, it was just so quick. Then I saw my mum got involved and grabbed her from the shirt, ripped her shirt from the top. It was crazy."
Guilty at Bankstown Local Court
The mother and daughter were both charged with affray and the case was listed at Bankstown Local Court.
The pair pleaded 'not guilty' and the case proceeded to a defended Hearing in July 2020.
Viewing the phone recording of the incident, magistrate Peter Bugden said Meriam could be seen pursuing Hinckson, "in rapid fashion" and then trying to retrieve the toilet paper.
He found that the affray commenced at this stage and continued for some time.
"It's clear that Tracey Hinckson – who it would appear to me knows how to look after herself – she grabbed Meriam, she grabbed 61-year-old Treiza. The three of them are seen in action, is the word I'd use. In action in aisle 10," said Mr Bugden.
The pair's affray lawyers argued that the mother and daughter were acting in self-defence, with Treiza behaving, "in a way most parents would ... she sought to protect the health and wellbeing of her daughter".
Magistrate Bugden agreed that 61-year-old Treiza's decision to join the brawl was perhaps a natural reaction for the mother.
However, he also said that the pair "acted in a way that caused the affray to take place", and found each woman guilty of affray.
The learned Magistrate found that Meriam was "intent, smashing the toilet roll packet from the other person's hand" with such force the packet broke, while her mother also, "had a couple [of] swings".
He said the reaction of "give it back" was natural, but he did not think it appropriate that Meriam continued in the way she did.
"What Meriam Bebawy did was to take the law into her own hands," Mr Budgen said. "She approached, she smashed — her hands smashed the toilet roll out of the hands of Ms Hinckson."
Mr Bugden sentenced Treiza Bebawy to a 12-month conditional release order without a conviction.
By contrast, he placed Meriam a 12-month conditional release order with a conviction – a reflection of the more serious nature of her role in the offending.
Appeal to Parramatta District Court
Criminal defence lawyers for the mother & daughter made an application for Judge Norman Delaney to recuse himself from the case. This was quickly denied by His Honour.
Dealing with the substantive appeal, Judge Delaney noted that Tracy Hinckson did not give evidence at the Local Court hearing.
Because of this, he found that he could not find beyond reasonable doubt that Ms Hinckson feared for her safety during the altercation, and upheld the appeal.
When Meriam Bebaway, was asked by journalists her thoughts on the ruling, she replied 'not to you' to a representative from A Current Affair.
Section 93C of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) defines affray as a person using or threatening to use unlawful violence towards another person which causes a person of "reasonable firmness" present at the scene to fear for his or her personal safety.
It is one of the more serious types of assault charges.
You can beat an affray charge in two ways. Firstly, Police must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:
- you used or threatened to use 'unlawful violence' to another person or property; and
- you intended to use, or intended to threaten to use, violence; and
- this would normally cause a person of 'reasonable firmness' to fear for their safety.
If any of these elements are not made out, then you can be found 'not guilty'.
Secondly, you can rely on one of the below defences to affray charges:
- Self defence: In this case you will be arguing that any violence you used was not 'unlawful'. This defence includes if you were defending another person
- Accident: your actions were accidental. You had no intention of assaulting anyone and you could not have foreseen that your actions would constitute unlawful violence
- Identification: Police cannot identify you as the perpetrator of the Affray
- Duress: That you were forced to commit the offence
- Necessity: your actions were necessary in the circumstances
The maximum penalty for affray is carries a maximum sentence of 10 years jail. If, however your case is heard in the Local Court, the maximum sentence for a single offence is 2 years imprisonment.
Looking at sentencing statistics for affray, more offenders were sentenced to jail than avoided a criminal conviction.
Charged with Affray?
The offence of affray is taken very seriously by the Courts. The maximum penalty is five times greater than the offence of common assault, reflecting the seriousness of the offence.
Despite this there have been a number of recent examples of these charges being dismissed after an accused retains experienced criminal defence lawyers. Having the best criminal lawyers for affray charges will go a long way towards beating these charges.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.