WA Police have laid charges over a range of alleged offences including child sexual assault, physical assault and theft they say are linked to a tent city for the homeless in Fremantle.
- About 80 tents have been set up at the camp at Pioneer Park
- The tent city was originally advertised as a temporary meal service
- Police say they have responded to 77 calls for help related to the camp
The camp has been attracting significant condemnation from the WA Government and service providers in recent days.
The camp was set up in Fremantle’s Pioneer Park by a group calling itself Freo Street Kitchen.
It was originally advertised as a meal service to provide for people during the holiday period but there are now dozens of tents set up in the park.
A WA Police spokesperson said since Boxing Day, police had responded to more than 77 calls for help associated with the camp and had issued 25 move on notices, with five being breached.
“There have also been a number of tasks and reportable incidents in the area that have required police attention. Some have resulted in significant charges being laid,” the spokesperson said.
The camp was originally advertised as a temporary meal service.(ABC News: Herlyn Kaur)
“Two men have been charged over the alleged sexual penetration and/or indecent dealing of two girls aged 14 and 13 years in Fleet Street Fremantle that occurred in the early hours of 1 January 2021.”
Other alleged offences include a group being assaulted and robbed at Bathers Beach on January 2, a man being assaulted with a rock at the park on January 9, and a 51-year-old woman being threatened with a knife last Friday.
WA Police said the location of all the reported offences or the people who were charged were linked to the park.
Police said they could not act “unilaterally” or assist in the removal of residents at the park without directions from the City of Fremantle or the Department of Communities.
“WA Police continue to expend considerable effort in providing a visible security presence in the area and attending to incidents or calls for assistance,” the spokesperson said.
Charges ‘very, very disturbing’: Premier
WA Premier Mark McGowan said he was very disturbed by the charges that have been laid.
Mr McGowan said “innocent members of the public” had been victimised and local businesses were under attack.
“The businesses on the strip, people trying to make a living are being terrorised,” Mr McGowan said.
Mr McGowan says he received a disturbing update from police on conduct at the park.(ABC News: Briana Shepherd)
“There’s alcohol, there’s drugs, there’s worse crimes going on there.”
Mr McGowan reaffirmed his earlier comments that the residents of tent city were being exploited by the organisers who he labelled professional protesters a claim which has angered some people involved with the camp.
Camp spokesman ‘shocked’ by alleged crimes
Johnny Windus, a homeless and unemployed man, acts as one of the camp committee’s spokesmen.
He said it was the “first he had heard” of the police allegations, saying he was “aware of everything” that had gone on at the camp to date.
“I am actually shocked to hear some of the allegations that have been made, that’s actually disgusting,” he said.
Johnny Windus describes the Government’s response to the camp as “political”.(ABC News: Keane Bourke)
“They [police] want to associate [that] with the camp, that would be police business,” he said.
Mr Windus said the State Government’s response to the camp had just been political.
‘This time the council has gone too far’
The Premier also called on the City of Fremantle council to step up and help resolve the issue.
“This has come about because the council invited the organisation to set up there for a day or two and then they’ve allowed them to continue on now for the best part of a month,” Mr McGowan said.
“It’s difficult for us to resolve because technically the campers and the tents are not trespassing because the council has allowed them and invited them on to the site and the council owns the land.
“So the council has created a difficult and dangerous situation there.”
Mr McGowan said as a result police were hamstrung and not able to move any of the residents on.
“The council this time has gone too far and they need to assist us to resolve an incendiary and explosive situation,” he urged.
Council did not authorise camp: Mayor
Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettitt said “the council never authorised this, never invited it, and we haven’t encouraged it”.
Want more WA news?
Did you know we offer a local version of the ABC News homepage? Watch below to see how you can set yours, and get more WA stories.
(Hint: You’ll have to go back to the home page to do this)
Mr Pettitt said the city was keen to see the tent city wrap up as quickly as possible.
“But in a way that prioritises the welfare of the people that are there,” he said.
“These situations are never good, they’re not good for the city, they’re not good for the inhabitants that are there.”
Dr Pettitt moved to reassure local businesses and the wider community the city had been “working day and night on this issue”.
“It is not an issue the council can solve itself, it is going to require the State Government to step up, put new resources in, in terms of accommodation services,” he said.
The Mayor said a committee met last night and passed a motion recommending council establish a plan to “wrap up” the camp in a “fair and compassionate way” within three weeks.
The motion is set to be voted on when the full council meets next Wednesday.
Dr Pettitt is running as an Upper House candidate in the coming March election.
McGowan accused of ‘cheap shot’
House the Homeless WA, a campaign established in 2020 by a group of housing advocates, including Jesse Noakes who was briefly a spokesman for environmental campaign group Extinction Rebellion, known for its direct action measures has written to Mr McGowan condemning what they say is an attempt to “stigmatise and exploit highly vulnerable people”.
“Your accusation that “professional protesters” and “anarchists” had deliberately lured vulnerable people to Pioneer Park and away from existing social support networks and services is nothing more than a deflection and a cheap shot away from the real issue, which we both know is the severe and worsening lack of public housing in WA,” the letter said.
“You can be assured that “these people”, as you disgustingly refer to them, do not have accommodation and that is due to the archaic public housing policies your Government has in place, especially in relation to Aboriginal families and children.”