A taxi driver whose cab was allegedly stolen by a high-flying real estate executive from Sydney’s CBD has told a court another driver shouted “chase him” as the man fled.
Brett Henson, 42, fronted Downing Centre Local Court on Wednesday charged with a range of driving offences, including stealing a motor vehicle and dangerous driving.
A prominent figure in the real estate market, Mr Henson was arrested late last year after photos of the incident were circulated by NSW Police in pursuit of the alleged culprit.
Police allege Mr Henson stole the silver taxi from Hunter St in Sydney’s CBD while intoxicated after threatening the driver shortly before 9pm on November 4, 2022.
Officers further allege that the Bronte resident drove dangerously before the vehicle later allegedly dumped several kilometres away in Woolhara with “significant damage”.
Lawyer Paul McGirr told the court Mr Henson was “under duress”, having allegedly been assaulted by “another party” who was believed to be part of a group of cab drivers.
“He (Mr Henson) was knocked around and injured, which police were made aware of,” Mr McGirr said.
“My client takes the particular cab and drives it, and appears to be followed by another taxi driver.
“He leaves the scene and goes around the conservatorium, and ends up on the Eastern Distributor Freeway.
“Importantly, he believed he was being followed (...) my client was under duress at the time.”
During the hours-long hearing, Mr McGirr focused heavily on the events leading up to the alleged taxi theft, as well as investigations into a number of unidentified men believed to have been present.
The taxi driver, Sayeed Ali Khan, gave evidence that an unidentified taxi driver shouted “let’s chase him (Mr Henson) ... do you want to go catch him”, before later rolling back those comments.
Instead, Mr Khan later claimed in court that the other taxi driver had instead urged for them to see if they could find Mr Henson and the man’s cab, before driving around the block.
That claim, as well as those surrounding Mr Henson’s intoxication and the presence of other drivers, came under fire by Mr McGirr who questioned Mr Khan’s account of events.
Mr Khan claimed he had seen Mr Henson on the ground before he allegedly took his taxi, but told the court he did not see or know how the real estate executive ended up there.
Instead, Mr Khan claimed Mr Henson had been “aggressive” and had shouted at himself and other cab drivers and bystanders gathered on the busy Sydney CBD street.
“He came to me and said: ‘(do) you want to fight with me?’” Mr Khan said. “Everyone wanted to help me, and he wanted to fight with the other people.”
Crucially, Mr Khan told Mr McGirr he could not identify who the other men were and could not remember if they had been aggressive with, or even pushed, Mr Henson.
Mr McGirr put to the cabbie allegations that other men present at the time had told Mr Henson they were members of the Muslim Brotherhood or the NSW Police.
The latter claim, Mr McGirr told the court, could explain why Mr Henson did not call triple-0 after the alleged attack, and before allegedly fleeing in the taxi.
In his opening submission, Mr McGirr said ID would “not be an issue” in the case, while also relegating allegations of his intoxication to be a “side issue”.
The police prosecutor, Mr Philipson, told the court they would not be producing any form of pharmaceutical or toxicology report into Mr Henson’s alleged intoxication.
Under questioning, Mr Khan admitted only told police of allegations Mr Henson was “slurring his words”, “smelt of alcohol”, and had red eyes when entering the taxi in a second statement taken months later.
The police officer in charge of the investigation said she had paraphrased Mr Khan’s evidence, with the police prosecutor saying it was not their duty to investigate discrepancies between Mr Khan’s two statements.
Mr McGirr further questioned the officer over investigations into a number of identified men seen on video at the time of the incident, but who were not identified in NSW Police media releases following the incident.
The police prosecutor, Mr Philipson, played video to the court on Wednesday of the moments before the alleged taxi theft, beginning with Mr Henson leaving the Ivy restaurant on George St.
In the video, Mr Henson is seen opening the door to a taxi about 8.40pm on Hunter St before falling to the ground as the passenger-side door is flung open and breaking the handle.
The driver of the cab is seen leaving the driver-side and talking with Mr Henson outside the vehicle for a period of time, before pursuing Mr Henson down nearby Hunter Ln.
In a later part of the video, Mr McGirr claimed a number of unidentified men are seeing with Mr Henson, with an unknown man at one stage placing his hand on the executive’s shoulder.
The footage also showed Mr Henson allegedly taking off with the taxi, with video taken inside the cabin showing him driving through the streets before dumping the cab on Queen St.
Mr Henson was reportedly a Senior Capital Transactions Manager for property developing giant Mirvac at the time of the alleged offence, and owns a $3.3 million house in Bronte. It is understood Mr Henson is no longer in that role.
He will reappear before the same court in March 2024, when a second driver who allegedly drove after Mr Henson, and police are expected to give evidence. Mr Henson’s bail was also dispensed of, with him previously reporting to Waverley police.