Did the The Australian have a barrow to push in its coverage of last week’s decision by the Court of Appeal to quash the conviction of Jack Thomas?

On Saturday the Oz splashed with a the decision under the headline. “Fury after Jihad Jack walks free.” The report, by Natasha Robinson, read:

THE families of terror victims have described the decision by an appeals court to release “Jihad” Jack Thomas — the first man jailed under the Howard Government’s new terrorism laws — as a farce.

A Melbourne court’s decision yesterday to quash the conviction of the Muslim convert — who met Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives just months before the September 11 attacks — was embarrassing for the Government and the Australian Federal Police and distressing for families of terror victims.

The unattributed assertion — that the decision is “embarrassing” to the Government — might offer a clue to the house view. But lest there be doubt, the paper also enlisted Legal Affairs editor Chris Merritt to provide a balanced explanation of the legal ins and outs of the decision. It ran under the headline, “Legal system releases the enemy“:

When the legal system allows a mate of Osama bin Laden to walk free in Melbourne, something is terribly wrong.

Australians should rightly be outraged at this decision. Allowing Jack Thomas to re-enter civilised society — even temporarily — is ludicrous.

There wasn’t enough time to pen the appropriate frothing at the mouth editorial — that had to wait until Monday when it ran under the headline “Jack Thomas’s freedom is a victor for our enemies“:

Mr Thomas decided whose side he was on in the war on terror years ago and he has, for the moment, at least, escaped punishment for his evil allegiance. The decision of the Court of Appeal cannot come to be seen as making a martyr of Mr Thomas. Nor can we afford misfits with mayhem on their minds to conclude from his acquittal that Australia is not committed to its own defence. Jack Thomas betrayed Australia by travelling to Afghanistan to serve the cause of terror. In avoiding punishment for this evil act, he has done it again.

If the court won’t convict him it’s comforting to know that Oz editor Chris Mitchell has no such qualms. Interestingly, though, it turns out some of his troops aren’t so gung-ho about being enlisted in his lynch mob.

According to a Crikey snout, Thomas’s lawyer Rob Stary got a call from Natasha Robinson, the author of the splash labelling the court’s decision a farce, apologising for the beat-up and blaming her editors for larding her copy with house opinion.

Stary is in court this morning, so we’ve not been able to establish whether the apology was accepted.