Judge's decision causes outrage

By Sandra Conchie

A prominent Tauranga professional has avoided a criminal conviction and had his identity kept secret after admitting he assaulted his young son during a dispute over a cellphone and iPod.

The middle-aged man was discharged without conviction despite pleading guilty to a common assault charge when he appeared in Tauranga District Court yesterday.

Judge Josephine Bouchier also granted the man permanent name suppression.

The man's former partner last night told the Bay of Plenty Times she was stunned by the decision.

"I'm absolutely horrified and shocked. Where's the justice for my son and me?

"My son is still receiving treatment. It's clearly an unjust system when someone can assault your son and they don't even have to pay him any reparation. That stinks."

The assault occurred in Tauranga late last year.

The court was told the pair got into an argument after the victim discovered his father had taken his iPod and cellphone from his bedroom and refused to allow him to ring his mother.

The defendant then held his son by the back of the neck and, as he walked him back inside the house, the boy fell over a suitcase.

The boy was then forced into a chair at the dining table while still being held by the neck and hit his head on the wooden table.

He was treated at Tauranga Hospital after sustaining a finger-mark bruise to the right back of his neck and left upper inner arm, with some swelling and bruising to the middle of his forehead.

He also complained of headaches and sore eyes.

The defendant told police the boy was being violent and abusive to him.

The man's lawyer, Paul Mabey QC, told Judge Bouchier he sought a discharge without conviction not merely because of his client's occupation but because of the severe impact it would have on his charity work.

Mr Mabey said a conviction could well be used as "ammunition" by others to try and discredit the charitable organisation, and also damage his client's professional reputation.

"It's political but it's a real risk," he said.

Mr Mabey also presented character references and affidavits from high-profile representatives of well-known national and international organisations which, he said, was clear evidence a conviction would have severe impacts, particularly for his client in entering certain countries.

"My client is a man who has no previous criminal convictions and he is entitled to call on the many testimonials and references which attest to his previous good character.

"He is absolutely remorseful, and tells me he is heartbroken about what happened and the consequences on his son, who he has not seen since that night because a protection order was taken out against him," he said.

Mr Mabey also argued there was no public interest in the Bay of Plenty Times being allowed to air his client's "dirty laundry".

Police prosecutor Leanne Darby said police opposed name suppression because the gravity of the offending against a vulnerable victim was at a high level, and there were serious ongoing consequences for the victim, who wished his father's name to published.

The Bay of Plenty Times also argued in favour of publication on the basis of the principles of open justice and the public interest for what it believed was not a minor matter.

But Judge Bouchier said: "While I assess the offence as moderately grave, and there was no doubt the victim would have suffered ongoing psychological effects, I am still prepared to exercise my discretion to grant a discharge without conviction, and permanent name suppression despite the victim's view.

She said she had taken into account the fact that the man had made a "significant difference" through his charitable works.

The judge said she agreed with Mr Mabey that the consequences of a conviction would be out of proportion to the gravity of the offence and, in her view, there was no public interest in the matter and permanent name suppression was appropriate.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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