Report Third Day of the Trial
Thursday 17th October 2019 for R v Kathlin Armstrong at the Local Court of NSW, Downing Centre, Court 4.2.
The hearing recommenced at 9:30am, presided over by Her Honour Magistrate Carolyn Huntsman. The defence team is Peter O’Brien and Tahn O’Rourke.
Kat Armstrong is accused of having returned money that was lent to set up the organisation, without the WJN Board's authority. She asserted the "legal right of claim", creating documents that authorised the return of the loans.
Natasha Thompson, the President of WJN, financial accountant and General Manager of Barnados, was called to the witness stand to discuss the various bank transactions on the WJN accounts.
Prior to cross-examination, the witness said she wanted to raise issues with the prosecutor which might affect her ability to provide evidence. She and the prosecutor went out, and on returning the magistrate said that no person should behave in a manner that would hinder the witness’s ability to provide truthful evidence. This suggested that Ms Thompson was made to feel uncomfortable by people on the defence side, however all agreed there was nothing done or said to justify that.
The prosecutor’s examination of Ms Thompson resumed with the presentation of various bank statements that were accepted as evidence by the judge.
The defence lawyer Mr O’Brien commenced his cross-examination about Ms. Thompson’s experience as a board director of WJN. It transpired that she had only been a director of WJN and president of the board since January 2018 and that her involvement prior to this was as a skilled volunteer. The defence team pointed out that she had not been properly elected, to which she did not object. However she said that she felt that Kat was too inexperienced and questioned her adequacy to be President of WJN.
Ms Thompson said that Ms Armstrong had done her induction, and that she had been told that in order for payments to be made, two people would have to approve them through delegation or authorization. The fact that Ms. Armstrong had not sought approval from two parties was one of the reasons Ms. Thompson became suspicious of her activities. The defence pointed out that there had been transactions made by other board members that had not been authorized by two parties, but Ms Thompson had failed to mention those to the police. Ms. Thompson claimed that the reason was because those were not fraudulent unlike Ms Armstrong’s transactions that she believed were.
The defence observed to Ms Thompson that as part of her investigation and reading of the Board and Finance Sub-committee minutes, that she hadn’t seen any items about delegated authority. She was asked if this meant that the protocol intended and the practice actually adopted weren’t the same. She agreed.
Mr O’Brien argued that Ms. Thompson’s view on the authority of transactions made as well as her claims that Ms. Armstrong’s transactions were fraudulent merely a matter of opinion and not backed up by evidence, which is not admissible as stated within section 76 of the Evidence Act (Cth). He continued to argue that Ms. Thompson was not an expert witness since she does not have specialized knowledge in the required area, and therefore cannot make an independent assessment. The magistrate agreed.
Interestingly, Ms. Thompson agreed with the defence that WJN is an organization created for women who have previously been incarcerated, and that as part of this, it would also be run by female ex-prisoners. However she said that for the organization to be sustainable it required skilled people to manage it.
After a break for lunch, the issue of wages arose and a miscommunication was highlighted where Ms. Armstrong had asked to stop receiving wages from the Department of Justice. This was interpreted by WJN as a halt in wages altogether. This was not what Ms. Armstrong had requested thus the defense argued WJN owed Kat money but Ms. Thompson rebutted that by stating that Ms. Armstrong was a volunteer and therefore was working on a non-paid basis. The magistrate said that she would have to consider both points of view and come to a decision whether Kat was owed money.
The final witness of the day called to the stand was Helen Campbell who is the national credit manager of Print Force Australia - Hero Print, who provides print-related services to other trade companies. She provided a statement to the police stating that payments were made from Breakout Media to HeroPrint for goods and services and it was implied that Ms. Armstrong had overseen some of these transactions using funds from WJN. The witness was not cross-examined and the court was adjourned shortly after 3pm.