A police decision to caution a Noosa man for his theft of Covid-19 signage from a Sunrise Beach playground has resulted in his message of public admission and regret being sent to hundreds of thousands of his social media followers which police believe to be a better outcome than a court process would have achieved.
Matthew Charles Fox, 34, was charged with stealing after he filmed himself putting Covid-19 signage from a Sunrise playground in a bin on August 4.
The personal trainer, who has a social media following of about 386,000 on Instagram and 20,000 YouTube subscribers to his home workout videos, told his followers that being charged with stealing had caused him a great deal of emotional distress and cost him a lot of money.
He said he had acted out of frustration to protest the closure of playgrounds during the pandemic as he was concerned about the impact of restrictions on the mental health of our children.
“I now accept that I should not have removed the sign from the playground,“ he posted.
“I now have a greater understanding of the public health concerns that resulted in the closure of playgrounds at the time that I removed the sign and of the implications of “protesting“ in the way I did,” he wrote.
“I urge you not to allow your frustration with the present situation to boil over to the point that you do something silly and end up in trouble like I did.”
Mr Fox paid the costs associated with having the signs replaced and the charges against him were dismissed.
Sunshine Coast Acting Inspector Ben Carroll said the introduction a few months ago of the adult caution policy had given police greater scope than previously available to use their discretion to proceed with criminal matters in different ways.
There is set criteria in which adult caution can be applied and, in this case, it was initiated by Sunshine Coast Police prosecution officer-in-charge Senior Sergeant David Bradley.
“It’s actually part of a combined strategy to try and influence more people than we possibly could with one prosecution,” Sen Sgt Bradley said.
“The best message for people who are radicalising and showing this stupid behaviour is to have someone who has done it to reflect on what they have done and send a message on our behalf, which is what we are using him to do.
“At the end of the day it’s about securing behaviour change and rehabilitation and if we can do that without putting people before the court, well, that’s an option.“
Inspector Carroll said instead of the man attending a magistrate’s court to have his charges heard out of the public view, he admitted he’d made a mistake to hundreds of thousands of people at a time when police were working hard to contain the Covid-19 pandemic and trying to get the message out to people to get vaccinated.