Bell in court – Political decision imminent

DECISION IMMINENT: Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell addresses the media indicating that he will make a decision about his political future in the coming week. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell appeared in the Mount Gambier Magistrates Court yesterday facing charges in relation to the theft of more than $2m, with the matter adjourned until late February.

Facing 20 counts of theft and six counts of dishonestly dealing with documents, Mr Bell, 44, addressed the media outside court and indicated he will be making a decision on whether he will run in the March state election later this week.

“In terms of my political future, now that I am a little bit clearer in terms of evidence, I will be reviewing that and making a decision in the very near future,” he said.

“I won’t keep the people of Mount Gambier waiting too long, now we are a little bit further progressed I can make an informed decision in the very near future.”

Following an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Mr Bell was first charged with 19 major indictable offences and seven minor indictable offences on August 11.

The offending is alleged to have occurred between July 9, 2009, and March 18, 2013, which relates to a period before Mr Bell became an elected member.

When asked whether he will be maintaining his innocence to the charges, Mr Bell strongly denied the serious allegations against him.

“I completely deny any wrongdoing or dishonesty and these things will progress at their own speed – today was just a procedural hearing,” Mr Bell said.

In light of the allegations, Mr Bell resigned from the Liberal Party, however has continued to serve Mount Gambier as an independent member.

Holding back tears outside court yesterday, Mr Bell thanked his family and the community for their ongoing support in light of the serious charges he is facing.

“I thank my family, staff and the people of Mount Gambier for their support, it’s a pretty tough situation to go through,” he said.

COURT ADJOURNED: Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell leaves court following a short procedural hearing in relation to the 26 charges he faces, which was adjourned until February 19. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

“In terms of timing, these are alleged to have occurred eight to nine years ago and then six months before an election, it doesn’t leave me a lot of time, but we will deal with that, people get dealt different hands in life and we will do the best we can with the situation we have at the moment.”

Appearing in court before Magistrate Anderson, Mr Bell’s defence counsel Heidi Hancock asked for the matter to be adjourned until February 19, so she could seek further declarations from the Director of Public Prosecution.

The prosecution was not opposed to the adjournment, stating that they were not in a position to know how long it would take to provide the extra material.

Mr Bell’s bail conditions were also altered so that he can travel interstate without seeking permission from a police officer.

He will now only have to seek permission if he is absent from South Australia for more than seven days.

Mr Bell is yet to enter pleas to all 26 counts and has been excused from appearing in court on the next occasion.

With his next court appearance a month out from the state election, Mr Bell said the timing of the proceedings are out of his control.

“I can’t dictate any of that, this is going to be a very long journey, but that will have no bearing on whether I run or not,” Mr Bell said.

Court documents show alleged theft of funds from the South East Education and Training Association and Limestone Coast Education and Training Association.

They also claim he dishonestly engaged in using documents knowing them to be false intending to deceive the Millicent High School on a number of occasions to benefit from large sums of money.