Farmer 'exhausted' after land battle

Phoebe WearneThe West Australian

A South West farmer who won a three-year legal battle over the alleged clearing of native vegetation on his property says his fight for justice has left him physically and emotionally exhausted.

The not guilty verdict comes as the State Government faces pressure over property rights at its State conference next month, with the Liberal Party's O'Connor and Durack divisions listed to move a motion calling for the introduction of property rights legislation.

Peter Swift faced penalties of up to $250,000 if convicted of breaching a section of the Environmental Protection Act relating to the unauthorised clearing of native vegetation.

The then-Department of Environment and Conservation charged Mr Swift after it identified the alleged native vegetation loss at his property using satellite imagery monitoring and then completed an investigation into the clearing.

Mr Swift and his neighbours maintained his innocence throughout trial, claiming the vegetation he had been accused of destroying was cleared before he bought the property near Manjimup in 2007.

In delivering her verdict in Bunbury Magistrate's Court on Wednesday, Magistrate Elizabeth Hamilton said the prosecution was unable to establish beyond reasonable doubt that Mr Swift had cleared the land or allowed land to be cleared between November 2007 and December 2009.

Mr Swift, who refused an offer of a lighter sentence if he pleaded guilty, said he had been left about $360,000 out of pocket and his fight was not over yet, because he planned to seek compensation.

He said he had been "to hell and back" but hoped the decision would help protect landowners' rights and lead to similar matters being dealt with through mediation rather than in the courts.

A Department of Environment Regulation spokeswoman said the DEC used accepted contemporary investigation methods in gathering its case against Mr Swift.

WAFarmers welcomed the decision, branding the State environmental protection laws that Mr Swift was charged under as "illogical".

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