Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

Two “selfish” Victorian men who violated Western Australia’s strict COVID travel laws to go to the AFL Finals and ended up on the premises of the victorious Melbourne team have been given 10 months in prison.

But a seven-month sentence for Hayden Burbank, 49, and Mark Babbage, 39, will be suspended.

The sentences were also dated to the time the men were arrested, meaning they will be eligible for release in late December.

Burbank and Babbage appeared in Perth Magistrates Court via video link from Hakea Prison, where they have been detained since their arrest in WA’s South West on September 28.

They appeared separately, but both pleaded guilty to three counts of violating WA’s COVID laws and one count of fraud.

Hayden Burbank and Mark Babbage
Mark Babbage, 39, and Hayden Burbank, 49, celebrated with the demons after their historic big last victory.(Delivered: WA Police)

Few fake documents to get into WA

The court was told they flew into WA three days before the AFL final after being allowed to enter the state from Darwin by forfeiting documents, including a Northern Territory driver’s license 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 participated in the AFL final, where there were more than 61,000 spectators and staff, creating the risk that it could have been “a super-spreading event.”

They were also photographed and filmed after the match, which celebrated with the Melbourne players, staff and other supporters on the premises.

Sargeant Nankivell described the offenses as “selfish” and said they were exacerbated by the dangerous nature of the COVID Delta tribe that was in Melbourne, as well as the fact that the two men later traveled to the regional WA.

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

He said an immediate prison sentence was urged to send a message to others who may consider doing the same.

The court was told that the verdicts could have consequences for the men’s business life.

Babbage, who is a financial planner, is likely to have to explain his actions to his business regulatory body, while Burbank may lose its restaurant’s liquor license.

Babbage thought ‘she’s right’: lawyer

Babbage’s lawyer, Seamus Raffferty, accepted that a jail sentence was required, but urged Judge Matthew Holgate to consider suspending it.

He said Babbage fully accepted that he entered WA for the selfish reason of participating in football, but he claimed he simply did not care about the possible consequences of his actions.

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

He also said Babbage was fully vaccinated and when he was in northern territory he was given a test for COVID which was negative.

“People got excited. There was a certain side in the grand finale that hadn’t been there long,” he said.

“He did not think he was hurting anyone, he had not come from an area that was under home – living orders, he did not have COVID … he made a shocking decision.

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

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

Lockdowns, mental problems took their way: Lawyer

Burbank’s lawyer, Andrew Tehan, said the continued closures in Melbourne had contributed to his client’s offenses because his restaurant in Prahran, to which he had dedicated his life, had closed down and it had taken him a mental path.

He said Burbank only had contact with three members of his family, including his father, who was in poor health and with whom he had a common love in Melbourne football club.

Two men posing in front of a flower wall
COVID offender Hayden Burbank poses at his Melbourne restaurant with American actor Adrian Grenier.(Facebook: Morris Jones Restaurant)

The court heard that he had previously been diagnosed with some mental problems, but due to the financial strain caused by the lockdown, Tehan said he had not had access to psychiatric help.

“He was facing a financial crisis in isolation … his mental problems went largely unchecked.”

Tehan said these issues had impaired Burbank’s ability to make judgments and calm and rational choices.

A sign in a packed stadium shows the attendance number
Well over 60,000 people took part in the AFL final in Perth.(AAP: Richard Wainwright)

Tehan said Burbank tested negative against COVID when he was in Darwin, and that was the result that led him to decide to travel to WA.

“If he had not had a negative test, he would not have participated in WA,” he said.

Judge Holgate said the offenses were serious because of the dishonesty involved and because they had potentially exposed the 61,000 people at the grand finale of COVID.

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