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Backpackers found guilty on seven charges

A Rochester backpackers was found guilty of seven charges for compliance issues at Echuca Magistrates' Court last Tuesday.

December 12, 2012 4:28am

A magistrate cited the Childers backpackers tragedy, in which 15 people died 12 years ago, when handing down her findings about a Rochester hostel last week.

Magistrate Jennifer Tregent found Rochester Investments — which runs Mustafa Apak Backpackers, also known as Rochester Backpackers — and the backpackers’ manager, Hasan Apak, guilty of seven charges.

Mr Apak and Rochester Investments were found guilty of exceeding the maximum number of people in a bedroom, failing to maintain prescribed accommodation in good working order, failing to ensure refuse was regularly removed, failing to record the name and address of arrivals, failing to register a prescribed accommodation with authorities, failing to comply with a prohibition notice and failing to comply with an improvement notice.

Rochester Investments and Mr Apak were each fined $4000 and ordered to pay $4000 in court costs each — a total of $16,000 in fines and court costs for the case.

Charges against Mr Apak’s son, Mustafa Apak — who owned the hostel — were withdrawn at the hearing in Echuca Magistrates’ Court last Tuesday.

Campaspe Shire’s lawyer Louisa Dicker told the court the backpackers had not rectified several issues despite having been told to do so by council at several inspections throughout the year.

Among the problems council officers found at inspections were overcrowding of rooms, flaking paint in the bathrooms, a blocked grease trap and overflowing recycling bins, Ms Dicker said.

There was also no register of the names and addresses of those staying at the backpackers and the building was being used as an accommodation facility without being registered to do so, she said.

The business was not given temporary registration to be used as an accommodation facility until late October.

Ms Tregent questioned why council had not given the business a prohibition notice until June, as work to rectify problems started in July, to which Ms Dicker had said council was hoping to work through the problems earlier.

Acting for Mr Apak and Rochester Investments, barrister Justin Foster said his clients had attempted to rectify problems after being served the prohibition notice in June.

‘‘It’s not as if nothing has been done,’’ he said.

‘‘Attempts were made to rectify the premises. Obviously not enough.’’

In handing down her finding, Ms Tregent said the issues that concerned her most were the overcrowding, the lack of enough fire extinguishers and that details of guests were not registered properly.

‘‘Who can forget the Childers situation where all those people were killed in the fire,’’ she said.

‘‘What if there was a Childers type situation? How do you get in touch with families?’’

She also admonished Mr Apak for taking so long to rectify problems outlined by council.

‘‘You should have got moving when council told you time and again to rectify the problems,’’ she said.

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