Killer lights up tobacco challenge

Hoddle Street mass murderer Julian Knight spends at least $80 a week on smokes, but he hopes soon to spend less.

Knight was 19 when he shot dead seven people and injured 19 in the Hoddle Street massacre in Melbourne in 1987.

He has bought cigarettes and tobacco from prison canteens ever since.

In 1997, after a complaint about canteen prices, Knight became aware of a levy imposed on tobacco products in Victorian jails.

Since then he has made a number of complaints to the ombudsman and auditor-general and has now taken his fight to the Victorian Supreme Court.

Knight, who has been a regular smoker since the age of 16, estimates he spends about $80 to $90 a week on cigarettes and tobacco.

In 1993, an unknown officer of the Department of Corrections made the decision to add a 10 per cent levy to the wholesale cost of cigarettes and tobacco.

The money raised from the levy is used for the development and delivery of anti-smoking programs, the court heard.

Knight argues such a decision is not authorised under the powers given to the secretary or governor of a prison.

Knight has been declared a vexatious litigant and must apply to the Supreme Court for permission to start a legal action.

Yesterday, Associate Justice Melissa Daly allowed Knight to proceed with his case, saying it was not doomed to fail and was not an abuse of process.

She said there might be some issues about Knight’s standing in the proceeding and who should defend the case, but the issues could be dealt with before or during a trial.

One issue is whether G4S Custodial Services, which operates Port Phillip Prison, where Knight is housed, should be part of the case.

”In any event, these matters are outweighed by the fact that if there is at least a real argument that the secretary and prison governors are acting beyond their lawful authority in imposing and collecting the levy, then that argument should have the opportunity to be fully ventilated before the court,” Associate Justice Daly said.

She said it might be that the beneficial intent and impact of programs funded by the levy would influence a court to use its discretion to reject Knight’s case.

The case will be heard next April.

Knight was sentenced to a maximum of seven life sentences, with a non-parole period of 27 years. He will be eligible for parole in 2014.


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