Accused NSW ex-bikie servo murderer bailed

Rebels bikies are accused of carrying out a murderous attack at a NSW Central Coast service station.
Rebels bikies are accused of carrying out a murderous attack at a NSW Central Coast service station.

Former Rebels bikie James Crane, who's allegedly linked to the bashing murder of a man at a NSW Central Coast service station, has been granted bail.

Justice Peter Hamill said in the NSW Supreme Court on Wednesday that Crane's ongoing detention was not justified, given the multiple and substantial delays of his trial.

Crane's joint trial with six others accused is due to begin next year after it was vacated in July due to the statewide COVID-19 lockdown. By then he would have spent more than three years in custody.

Crane, 56, is charged alongside his brother Colin Crane, a life member of the gang, with murdering Clint Starkey, 42, who was attacked at the Caltex outlet in Peats Ridge in April 2017.

While they were not present during the attack, allegedly carried out by four Rebels, the brothers have been charged on the basis of being part of a joint criminal enterprise.

Defence lawyer Steven Boland earlier submitted that Mr Starkey had seriously threatened Colin Crane's wife at her workplace just days before the attack.

"I'll shoot at your house," Mr Starkey said, according to her statement.

Mr Starkey was known to carry unauthorised firearms and had been previously charged with several assaults, Mr Boland said.

"Everyone was extremely worried about what this man was about to do."

James Crane was in telephone conversations with the co-accused immediately before a number of "relevant meetings", including one in Mangrove Mountain's general store, two days before the assault, the court was told.

But this was because the brothers were worried he posed a real threat, and not necessarily plotting his murder, Mr Boland said.

CCTV footage of the attack shows a man Crane had also been in contact with driving Mr Starkey to the petrol station.

This man appears to be aware of the camera "because he mouthed an obscenity," while inside the shop, Justice Hamill said.

"His actions at that time might lead the jury to infer he was stalling to keep Mr Starkey at the scene," he said.

Shortly after two other cars pull into the station, and four men pull their victim onto the ground.

"It was a brutal assault," Justice Hamill said.

One man is seen stomping on his head, at least once, while Mr Starkey was lying defenceless on the ground.

Intercepted calls later reveal Crane's "displeasure at one offender".

Justice Hamill said that while the prosecution case wasn't weak, the murder charge was "far from overwhelming," pointing to a statement given to police.

"It was supposed to be a touch-up, but that was way more than a f***ing touch-up," the judge read out, saying it may come down to an alternative charge of manslaughter, given Crane was not present.

He also took into account the COVID-19 pandemic's effect on prisoners, and Crane's ill-health, in granting him strict conditional bail.

Crane was not deemed a flight risk, while $150,000 has been promised as security if he fails to appear before court.

Australian Associated Press