Ex-mayor gets four years

By Hamish Fletcher

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A former Central Hawke's Bay mayor who intentionally facilitated crime by providing legal help has been sentenced to four years nine months' jail and says his sense of shame and regret will follow him to his grave.

Hugh Edward Staples Hamilton, who did legal work for failed finance company Belgrave, was in May found guilty on 14 charges of theft by a person in a special relationship.

Belgrave's 2008 collapse left more than 1200 investors $22 million out of pocket.

At sentencing in the High Court at Auckland yesterday, Crown lawyer Nick Williams pushed for a starting point of six to six and a half years in jail for Hamilton.

Williams said the theft in this case amounted to $12.5 million and that Hamilton had abused his position of authority as a lawyer.

Hamilton's actions was not spur of the moment offending and the lawyer was the "necessary conduit" through which the theft of Belgrave investor funds was enabled, Mr Williams said.

In referring to a pre-sentencing report, he said Hamilton did not display empathy for his victims and had not shown remorse.

The Crown lawyer said the magnitude of the offending in the case and the number of offences meant a sentence of home detention was not appropriate.

Hamilton, 63, read out a statement apologising to Belgrave's investors and for his actions.

He said he had failed miserably to uphold standards expected of him, which was a "crushing blow".

"My sense of shame and feeling of deep regret will follow me to my grave.

"I accept I have allowed my ego and my can-do attitude to cloud my judgment. "As a result, I have done things and let things happen which, as a lawyer, I could and should have stopped," Hamilton said.

The former lawyer told the court he had "lost everything" and now had no career or standing in the community or his former profession.

He had no assets except for a vehicle and some furniture, had recently gone on the unemployment benefit and would offer reparation if he could.

He acknowledged that what he was saying might be seen "as too little too late".

Hamilton's lawyer, David Young, listed his client's involvement and voluntary work for the Hawke's Bay community and read from numerous testimonials in support of the former public figure.

Hamilton served as mayor of Central Hawke's Bay for six years after the merger of the smaller councils in 1989, and had done pro bono legal work.

He was Waipukurau Rotary Club president and Central Rugby and Sports Club chairman.

"This is a man who spent a large part of his life going out of his way to help other people, sometimes in high-profile positions, sometimes quietly, without gain in many cases," Young said.

Young said Hamilton was a "small-town" lawyer who "pushed the envelope" for his former firm's biggest client, Belgrave Finance.

Hamilton is a former partner of DAC Legal and advised Belgrave Finance until its 2008 receivership.

When passing down sentence, Justice John Faire said the offending had resulted in major loss to the community.

The judge said some of Belgrave's investors who lost money were retired and some would face financial insecurity for the remainder of their lives.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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