The man who walked out of a South Australian medi-hotel to go to the pub in the middle of the night has apologised for the “mistake”, saying it was “out of character”.
NSW resident Paul McElhinney, 33, was arrested and charged with breaching Covid-19 directions under the Emergency Management Act on Wednesday after details of his eight-hour escape from hotel quarantine were publicly detailed by Police Commissioner Grant Stevens on Wednesday morning.
He appeared via videolink in the Adelaide Magistrates Court later on Wednesday afternoon, where he pleaded guilty to the charges and apologised for his actions, saying it was a “mistake” and asked if he could return home to his wife and children.
“I understand I did the wrong thing. I apologise for that,” Mr McElhinney said.
“It was a mistake (and) out of character.”
According to Mr Stevens, the incident report found Mr McElhinney, who landed in Adelaide on August 3 on a Singapore repatriation flight, left his room at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Adelaide’s CBD at about 10pm last Thursday.
He was in the hotel hallway, which is covered by CCTV footage, for about seven seconds before entering a fire stairwell that had no alarm and leaving via the hotel’s basement car park.
Mr McElhinney was then spotted by a police officer, who asked him what he was doing there. The man said he had left the nearby Duke of York pub for some fresh air and stumbled across the hotel car park.
After lying to the officer, Mr McElhinney was then moved on from the area and visited the McDonald’s and KFC restaurants along Hindley St and The Duke of York Hotel located in nearby Currie St.
After spending about eight hours within the community, the defendant returned to the medi-hotel at about 6am on Friday “puffed out, tired and quite intoxicated”.
Police then became aware there was a breach.
Mr McElhinney, who is fully vaccinated, returned negative results on his day one, five and nine tests and was retested the day of the breach. It also came back negative.
During his court hearing, Mr McElhinney’s lawyer said he was under a “significant amount of stress and grief” after attending his father’s funeral in Scotland.
The lawyer also argued that her client underwent seven Covid-19 tests, which were all negative, so he did not pose a great risk to the community.
“It was a very foolish decision leaving that hotel quarantine facility,” she said.
However, the police prosecutor argued he was aware of his quarantine requirements and had the opportunity to tell the truth to the police officer he encountered while in the car park, but chose to lie.
“Indeed we are lucky that the result was negative. The risks that are posed by breaches of this sort are significant and that … makes it a very significant offence,” the prosecutor said.
“The only appropriate penalty is a term of imprisonment, considering the drastic impact that this sort of breach could have brought about in the state.”
Magistrate John Fahey remanded Mr McElhinney in custody until his next court appearance next week.
He warned the defendant that jail time was appropriate for such serious offending.
“This is serious offending … and you’ve heard it suggested that the only appropriate penalty is jail, and I think that might be the case,” Magistrate Fahey said.
Commissioner Stevens said SA police reviewed its CCTV monitoring process and admitted there were “failings”.
He said security arrangements in the fire exits and car parks were now being investigated and the patrol that spoke to the man should have asked more questions.
The report made nine recommendations, which have already been actioned, according to the Commissioner.
“I don’t make any excuses for the fact that this shouldn’t have happened,” Mr Stevens said.
“But we are taking steps to correct those issues.
“There were failings on the part of how we managed that particular incident.
“This one set of relatively minor mistakes could have had potentially significant consequences and we’re lucky it didn‘t.
“We’ll learn from this and move on.”
Mr Stevens said the staff concerned understood what they could have done better and had been spoken to by their managers and there wouldn’t be any further repercussions.
He defended the state’s hotel quarantine system, saying it was “managed effectively” by SA Police and SA Health.
“It’s because we’re dealing with facilities that are not designed for quarantining, but they are the best resource we have at the moment.”
Mr Stevens said 22,000 people had completed isolation through the state’s medi-hotel quarantine program and this was the first breach.