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Luckily for Matthews, normal service was swiftly resumed. Her lawyer entered an immediate appeal, and she was released on bail. Then, this past June, a District Court judge quashed her conviction. "All we know is that a person with a black burqa came in with a man in a brown suit with an envelope and that's it," he said. "I'm not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that she made the complaint. And even if I was, I would not be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that it was knowingly false." 

It was this last part that stuck in the public craw. Bold as Ms Matthews's lawyer was, not even he had tried to argue that the complaint, as well as being signed by an impostor, was also not deliberately untrue. To have reasonable doubt about both of these things was impressively open-minded. 

Outside the courthouse, a small group of Carnita Matthews's supporters celebrated the verdict by shoving journalists, yodelling obscenities, and generally making you wonder how they would have behaved if the result had gone the other way. Matthews's lawyer, invited to condemn their conduct, said: "They're obviously happy about the result and they're expressing it in a way that's culturally appropriate to them." Mamdouh Habib appeared on TV to declare, triumphantly, that the racism of the police force had been proved. 

It was notable, though, that the broader Muslim community declined to rally around Ms Matthews. The whole thing was bad PR, especially for the burqa. There has never been any serious move in Australia to ban the burqa, and one doubts there ever will be. Conservative Christians have mounted the odd campaign against it, but they have tended to rely on the shallowest of arguments: namely, the suggestion that the veil might be used for nefarious purposes, such as robbing banks. Muslim spokespeople have always been able to reply, with some justice, that this is paranoid nonsense. Yet here was the defence exploiting, successfully, that same dubious theme: the burqa as disguise, as a cloak for crime. It was hard to see how anyone's opinion of the garment could have improved as a result of the case.

The Director of Public Prosecutions came under pressure to lodge a counter-   appeal. He didn't, and that decision was probably wise: the circus was in danger of becoming something nastier. But a sense of violation lingered. On talk radio there was even more rage than usual. Secular society  is capable of feeling humiliated too.

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