Toronto Star

Oct. 18, 2001, 02:00 EDT

Acquitted of assault charges, `Rosie' still heads off to jail

Robert Rowbotham's girlfriend recanted her allegation that he brutally beat her

Tracy Tyler
The Toronto Star

It's been exactly a week since a CBC radio personality was acquitted of assaulting his girlfriend. But instead of returning to an editing studio, Robert "Rosie" Rowbotham appears headed for one of Canada's most notorious prisons.

Rowbotham, 50, is scheduled to be shipped to maximum-security Millhaven penitentiary near Kingston today, despite findings by a judge and crown attorney that there wasn't a shred of evidence against him.

"He's certainly not happy about it," Rowbotham's lawyer, John Hill, said yesterday after appealing to National Parole Board officials in Toronto to release his client, who was acquitted last week when his common-law spouse, Valerie Phillips, recanted her story that he had beaten her from head to toe.

Rowbotham, who surrendered to police last August, is a federal parolee, serving the final few months of a 20-year sentence for helping to run a massive drug-smuggling conspiracy that resulted in 16 tonnes of marijuana and hashish imported into Canada.

Convicted once before of a similar offence, albeit on a much smaller scale, his trials in the 1970s and '80s provided some of the more colourful chapters in the annals of Canadian criminal law, with singer Neil Young's brother among Rowbotham's co-accused and the American writer Norman Mailer included among the witnesses.

Since being released on full parole in 1998, Rowbotham has worked primarily for CBC radio out of its national broadcasting centre in Toronto, filing news reports and producing investigative documentaries that focus on the prison system.

Charged last August with assault and uttering threats against Phillips, he was granted bail, but was held in jail because parole board officials recommended his parole be revoked on the basis of the new charges

But while he has been exonerated by a court, that is apparently not good enough for the parole board, Hill said.

Parole officials have referred his case for a "post-suspension" hearing, tentatively set for Nov. 23 at Millhaven, where board members will examine the allegations and evidence themselves and decide whether he should be released or remain in jail until his sentence expires next June.

"He's gone through a trial in which the crown has admitted there is no evidence of wrongdoing, and yet the parole board thinks they are in a better position to make a decision," Hill said in an interview. "It would sound as though they must have decided the courts can't be trusted.

"Are we are allowing lay members of the public, who constitute the parole board, to overrule decisions made by fully informed crown attorneys and judges?"

John Vandoremalen, a board spokesperson, admitted "it would seem odd" that someone acquitted is being returned to prison but, in Rowbotham's case, it's something the board is legally required to do.

If a federal parolee is arrested on new charges, parole officials have up to 30 days to exercise their discretion and decide whether parole should be suspended. They usually won't make the decision until the case is heard in court, he said.

Rowbotham's case didn't come to trial within that 30-day period, so his parole officers' discretion lapsed and the case has to automatically go to a post-suspension hearing within 90 days, Vandoremalen said.

At that hearing, he added, board members can "look beyond the offence" and evidence in court to determine whether Rowbotham would present a risk to public safety if released.

Phillips, who has a criminal record for perjury, told the court that she called 911 last July 30, after polishing off a bottle of liquor and downing tranquilizers, and claimed she'd been beaten by Rowbotham.

She made up the story, she told the court, because she was angry at Rowbotham and wanted to "pay him back" for walking out on her as a result of her refusal to confront her substance-abuse problem.

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