An 18-year-old youth has walked free, cleared of a terror-related offence, after four months in the Victorian prison system’s most severe conditions.
Harun Causevic faced a possible sentence of life in prison after he was charged with conspiring to commit an act in preparation for an act of terror.
He was arrested as part of pre-dawn raids on April 18, along with Sevdet Besim, also 18, of Hallam, and Mehran Azami, 19, of Narre Warren, who has pleaded guilty to importing more than 200 weapons but was not charged with terror offences.
Police alleged Causevic and Besim were part of a conspiracy to carry out an Islamic State-inspired attack on a Victoria Police officer on Anzac Day.
On Tuesday, police withdrew the charge against Causevic, saying in a statement they did not have enough evidence to proceed.
Causevic, of Hampton Park, pleaded guilty to three relatively minor weapons charges relating to knives and a knuckleduster found in his possession, and was released on bail.
He left court flanked by his sister, mother and father, his head down and not offering comment.
Defence lawyer Rob Stary said the fact an 18-year-old with no criminal history could be kept in custody for four months on a charge that was later withdrawn raises questions about how authorities deal with such cases.
Causevic was kept in isolation in a unit full of hardened criminals and, following a riot, had his access to visitors and programs limited.
“A terrible injustice has been perpetuated here,” Mr Stary said, adding the episode will erode confidence in authorities.
But police say they would rather risk a prosecution failing than risk members of the community being hurt or killed.
In a joint statement, Victoria Police and Australian Federal Police said the present counter-terrorism environment dictates that they will always act in the interest of ensuring community safety.
“In this particular matter, police undertook an operational resolution at an early stage to ensure there was no threat to the community,” the joint statement said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said before the hearing that he supports the police.
“They’re very tough calls,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Tuesday.
“Some people will support them, some people won’t, but I support them because they’re doing everything they can to keep all of us safe.”
Causevic will undergo counselling before his return to court in November.
Besim, who also appeared briefly in court via video link, will remain in custody before returning to court in December for a two-day committal hearing.