Witness intimidation routine: judge

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Gang members intimidating witnesses against speaking in court is interfering with justice.
Gang members intimidating witnesses against speaking in court is interfering with justice.

Gang members intimidating witnesses against speaking in court is interfering with justice in Hawke's Bay, a judge says.

Judge Tony Adeane spoke out about the increasingly "routine" practice yesterday while sentencing two Mongrel Mob members for perverting the course of justice.

John Charles Tonihi, 22, used a prison phone to call friends outside of prison last October, the Napier District Court heard yesterday.

He spoke to Rongomaiaia Kaka, 26, and instructed him on what he must do to stop the female witness from giving evidence.

"Give her a f**king talking. She's just not allowed to turn up in court.

"F**king root her, root her and tell her this is how it is," were Tonihi's words, Judge Adeane told the court.

His sentencing notes reported the Crown described the exchange as "disturbing".

Judge Adeane said: "In my view they are equally culpable and liable to the same starting point."

At that moment, Judge Adeane took the opportunity to tell the court local judges were "becoming increasingly concerned at the incidence of attempts to pervert the course of justice". "That practice is particularly prevalent in cases involving the Mongrel Mob and domestic violence where witness intimidation is routine."

He said the small size of the region and the "extensive family connections" made "witness intimidation an easy object to achieve and a difficult one to combat".

The pair were sentenced to two years imprisonment yesterday, but Tonihi had already learned the verdict at a previous judge-alone trial, which Kaka failed to attend.

Defence counsel Philip Jensen appeared for Kaka and said that while Kaka missed the trial, he did make it to the court on the day of the trial, but got there too late.

"He's not just a gang member, but he's a family man," Mr Jensen said.

Eric Forster, who appeared as defence counsel for Tonihi, said the offending "must fall at the low end of perverting the course of justice" because it "never went further than conspiracy".

This was not the first time Tonihi had been convicted of trying to pervert the course of justice. Tonihi was convicted of it in 2014 and was sentenced to three years imprisonment.

But Judge Adeane said the "aggravating features of this case are the vulnerability of the intended victim".

He took into account Tonihi's previous offending and Kaka's willingness to "become the physical instrument of whatever steps were needed to protect Tonihi".

Judge Adeane classified the offending as "moderately serious".

He chose not to impose the maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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