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By ABC News
An Adelaide man has been acquitted of trafficking drugs because police secretly replaced cocaine hidden in a hollowed-out novel with icing sugar before the accused collected the item.
Nathan John Ralph was charged after Australian Border Force (ABF) officers detected an “anomaly” in a parcel posted from the UK in January 2019.
The parcel was addressed to a unit owned by the accused but leased to his father on the Esplanade at Seacliff in Adelaide’s south, and was intercepted by local police following a tip-off from ABF.
Inside the parcel was a novel, and inside the novel was about 99 grams of cocaine.
Mr Ralph faced South Australia’s District Court charged with one count of trafficking a controlled drug but was acquitted by Judge Timothy Heffernan.
In a judgement handed down earlier this month, Judge Heffernan found the accused never came into contact with the illicit drug, which had been substituted by police with icing sugar.
“Upon inspection, the novel had been hollowed out and inside the cavity was a plastic bag containing a white powder,” Judge Heffernan wrote.
“A presumptive test, later confirmed by forensic analysis, suggested that the powder was cocaine.
“The police arranged for the cocaine, which weighed about 99g, to be substituted with an inert substance, icing sugar.”
An undercover officer then delivered the reconstructed parcel to the man’s address on February 12, 2019, and police conducting surveillance of the property noticed the man, who was driving a truck, come to collect it a short time later.
Mr Ralph was then tracked to the Glen Osmond Market, where he was arrested that afternoon.
“Immediately prior to his arrest he had stopped in the car park of the market and was observed to run from the vehicle and hide a package in bushes at the rear of the premises,” Judge Heffernan wrote.
“The package hidden was the plastic bag containing the icing sugar that had been swapped out for the cocaine. On the seat of his truck police located the envelope and the hollowed-out novel.”
Judge Heffernan wrote that despite the man’s behaviour, there was “no case to answer”, noting that in order to be found guilty he “would have to have performed an act with respect to the actual substance”.
“For a completed offence, it was necessary for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused had taken a step as alleged with respect to the controlled substance, not an inert substitute posing as the controlled substance,” Judge Heffernan wrote.
“All of the actions alleged against the accused occurred after the substitution of icing sugar for the cocaine.
“All the accused had done was to store, transport or carry icing sugar, which was self-evidently not an offence.
“Had the accused been charged with an attempt to traffic in the above circumstances, there would have been a case to answer on the facts.”
But Judge Heffernan wrote that he was not asked to consider the offence of attempted trafficking and acquitted the accused.