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It’s Saturday night in Kings Cross, Sydney. The famous neon Coca-Cola sign flashes an enticing red light, promising a good night on the town. Young partygoers spill out of taxis to bar-hop up Darlinghurst Road. At the intersection of Darlinghurst Road and Bayswater Road is a police roadblock. It’s 11pm and a mob of riot police stand awkwardly, anticipating trouble. Those spilling from the taxis gingerly straighten themselves as they file past.

In the distance a bottle smashes and the police mob fractures, some running towards the sound while the others tighten their grips on their guns.

Patrons wait nervously in the lines for the more popular bars. Other bars stand empty, security yawning while door staff hold clipboards of empty guest lists. Venues like World Bar still draw a crowd. The dance floor is packed and the queue snakes part way up Bayswater Road, but tension bristles in the air. The security guards who flank the bar doors are in turn flanked by police officers. Kings Cross, once noisy, brash and vibrant, is now subdued, tense and uncomfortable.

The click of heels echoes as young people join the queue, but the chatter and laughter that usually fills the streets is gone. In spite of the dulled mood the young revellers have made an effort to dress up for the night. Women in bright, sassy dresses defy the cold while men in skinny jeans adjust the shape of their hair before settling on a bar.

I line up outside one of the busier bars.

‘This is bullshit!’ the guy in front of me exclaims as he is denied entry by security. ‘We came here for a good night and now we can’t do anything!’ His friends yank him down the street away from the police.

On Victoria Road, a scuffle breaks out and a young man cops a square punch to the jaw. On another street, two men and a woman stumble down the footpath. One of the men shoves the woman into a wall, cracking her head. The other man intercepts and another argument ensues. Clutching her head, the woman slides between the two men, pushing them apart as they lay into each other. The throngs of police protecting the area are just metres away on the main drag. The entire attention of the twenty-odd officers is focused on a bikie gang passing through; these two altercations go unnoticed.

Just across from this same road, Thomas Kelly and Daniel Christie lost their lives two years ago. Their deaths cast a long shadow over Kings Cross, galvanising the community to demand action to end the violence.

For many young Australians, alcohol is a rite of passage, and a night spent drinking with friends in the city’s hotspots is a social ritual. On 7 July, 2012, eighteen-year-old Kieran Loveridge purchased two dozen cans of premixed alcohol that he consumed with two friends at a home in Quakers Hill. Each can contained 1.9 standard drinks, so by the time Loveridge headed into the city he’d had the equivalent of fifteen drinks.

Court documents note that the boys drove into the city, arriving at around 7.30pm, where Loveridge continued to binge. Eventually they headed to Kings Cross. After being denied access to their venue of choice, Cargo Bar, the young men were permitted into Pontoon Bar. They ordered shots.

Afterwards, the men moved on to a bar on Bayswater Road but were again denied entry. With another friend, Loveridge made his way across Victoria Road where he encountered some acquaintances. But he didn’t recognize them, and grabbed their shirtfronts aggressively.

As this commotion took place, seventeen-year-old Marco Compagnoni came walking along the footpath. Compagnoni had been working that night, handing out flyers to people on the streets of Kings Cross. As he walked past Kieran Loveridge, suddenly and without warning, elbowed Compagnoni above his left eyebrow — splitting the skin.

After this attack Loveridge found himself alone on Victoria Road, leaning against the wall of Kings Cross Station in the shadows of the streetlights.

At around 10pm, eighteen-year-old Thomas Kelly was walking down Victoria Road, accompanied by his girlfriend and another friend. The trio were on their way to meet some other friends at a Bayswater Road hotel. As Kelly walked past, Loveridge stepped out from the wall and punched Kelly in the face with enough force to knock him to the ground.

The CT scan revealed a massive fatal fracture to Thomas Kelly’s skull. He suffered injury to the left frontal area of his brain and from lacerations and a haematoma on the right side of the back of his head. The neuropathologist assessing the case attributed these injuries to a single, severe hit to the back of the head caused by the contact Kelly made with the pavement.

Within an hour of striking Thomas Kelly, Loveridge had attacked three other men.

At this point two police constables intervened. The officers noted that Loveridge was affected by alcohol: agitated and emotional, waving his arms and yelling. Unaware of Loveridge’s rampage through Kings Cross, the officers recorded his details and gave him an infringement notice.

The day after the attacks in Kings Cross, Loveridge was watching television with friends when the news broadcast a story of the fatal attack on Thomas Kelly. According to reports, Loveridge became worried while watching the broadcast, saying to his friends, ‘Was that one of my fights? I don’t know.’

On 12 July, he raised his concerns about the possibility of being Kelly’s attacker with his new football coach. He recalled being involved in some fights, but wasn’t sure who he’d assaulted. A week later, while watching a Canterbury Bulldogs coaching session with a friend at Belmore Sports Ground, Loveridge was approached by detectives and arrested without incident. He was charged with the murder of Thomas Kelly, and later pleaded guilty to manslaughter and the four assault charges on the condition that the charge of murder was withdrawn.

Ten minutes from where Thomas Kelly was fatally king hit, Sydney’s newly revamped Star Casino in Pyrmont is a hive of activity. With two nightclubs inside, groups flock to the waterside venue. It is still hours away from the lockout and closure times in the Cross. Girls wrapped in tight bodycon dresses strut past the groups of young guys jostling each other as they wait in line, while boy racers in their modified Nissan Skylines do laps around the Casino. There isn’t a cop in sight.

The party is shifting to the Inner West venues that have no lockouts or early closures. Newtown, on the fringe of the city and usually considered a more alternative community removed from the heavy clubbing scene, is filled with late-night revellers in search of longer parties.

‘We’ve always had a regular crowd, but nothing like this,’ a bartender tells me as he tries to jot down the multitude of drink orders being screamed across the bar at him.

It’s 1am and lockouts are now in place in Kings Cross. Those in the bars stay until the 3.30am closures, while those outside move across Sydney filling other venues that are not scrutinised. The packs of police stand around idly, their hands resting inside their bulletproof vests.

Between July 2012 and December 2012, Sydney experienced a horrific spate of alcohol-fuelled violence that left two young men dead, four in induced comas and dozens of others with black eyes, split lips, busted eyebrows and heavy bruising. The attacks were random and senseless; Sydney was reeling.

The heinous king hit created panic amongst the media and the community. This particular menace was to become the subject of heated debate that first the NSW Liberal government and then Premier Barry O’Farrell would try to combat with one legislative swipe.

This is an extract from a long-form essay written as part of the KYD Copyright Agency Investigative Journalism Mentorship. The full article will be published on our website in late January.