January 17th, 2008

Samuel Johnson was 'a goose' at Star City Casino

Kim Arlington

December 19, 2007 12:00am

HE may be a character actor, but a court heard yesterday that Samuel Johnson was acting very much out of character when he attacked a fellow wedding guest.

The former Secret Life of Us star escaped an assault conviction over the incident, in which he punched the victim and stomped on his head.

The 29-year-old pleaded guilty to assault occasioning actual bodily harm but was given a 12-month good behaviour bond, with Magistrate Brian Maloney describing the attack as an "aberration".

Afterwards, Johnson apologised to victim Ben Benson, saying: "I behaved like a goose and I've been remorseful since the moment it happened."

Downing Centre Local Court heard that on September 1, Johnson took girlfriend Sarah Hallam to the casino's Astral Bar after a harbour wedding reception.

Police said an altercation erupted at the bar, with Johnson punching Mr Benson to the ground and stomping on his head, leaving him bruised and concussed.

The Melbourne-based actor later contacted police, saying it had been a case of mistaken identity.

Defence lawyer Greg Goold said the violence broke out after Johnson tried to protect Ms Hallam, who had been "handled in a very indecent and offensive manner" by someone in the crowd.

When Johnson went to defend her, he was pushed and hit his head on the bar.

He then stepped back into Mr Benson and hit him.

"At the time, he truly believed he was confronting the right person," Mr Goold said.

"He felt justified that he was protecting his partner."

An AFI award-winning actor, Johnson found fame in the now-defunct TV series.

Mr Goold said he'd battled depression and alcohol problems since his former partner, Lainie Woodlands, took her own life in February last year.

It was a painful reminder of his mother's suicide and Johnson slipped into depression with episodes of binge-drinking. But Mr Goold said his client was "tidying himself up", receiving counselling through a drug and alcohol service, and he tendered character references.

Supported in court by Ms Hallam, an emotional Johnson wiped away tears as Mr Maloney observed that unresolved grief sometimes led to alcohol abuse. He nodded as he was told he had "stepped over the line".

However, he accepted Johnson was not a violent person and noted his impressive community service -- including raising $500,000 for children's cancer charity CanTeen by riding a unicycle from Sydney to Melbourne. He placed him on a good-behaviour bond, with no conviction recorded.

Outside court, Johnson said he was "very sorry it all happened".