Maori priest accused of torturing American tourist

By Jared Savage

A young US tourist allegedly beaten for over 12 hours by a Maori "priest" says his dream holiday to New Zealand became a "Hollywood horror movie".

Colin Breed Taylor, 44, has been charged with two counts of assault with a weapon - a carved walking stick and pliers - and will stand trial following a depositions hearing at the Auckland District Court last week. He has pleaded not guilty. More charges are likely to be laid before the trial.

Taylor, a tohunga or Maori priest, is accused of assaulting the 25-year-old in his Ponsonby home in Auckland a year ago. The tourist gave evidence by satellite video link and told the court that he thought he would die. He said he was taken as part of a group to "The Chief's" home as an unplanned stop on a Kiwi Experience bus tour last February. The alleged victim struck up a close rapport with Taylor, who invited him to return the next day, which he did.

The tourist returned to Auckland in April 2006, but had kept in touch with Taylor by email while travelling in New Zealand. Taylor invited him to stay at his house for five days, offering to teach him "what it meant to be a man" for free. "I didn't have a father, growing up in my life; I was trying to figure out my place in the world," the 25-year-old told the court. He said, on the first day, Taylor's demeanour towards him changed, and that Taylor had become aggressive, prodding and poking him in the chest to emphasise points he was making.

Taylor said that he (Taylor) had a $5000 debt, and normally charged $5000 for the teaching but would mentor the visitor for free because he was "family".

"At one point, he grabbed my throat with both hands as if to choke me. He looked me straight into my eyes and called me scum. That's when I said 'I'm leaving'.

"I chose my words very carefully. I said: 'I feel like you're trying to con me'. Con me into giving him $5000 or more."

Immediately Taylor become upset, the 25-year-old said, and told the tourist he had broken Maori moral code. As he was the "Supreme Chief" of his home, Taylor said, he could pass sentence on the American - for an offence punishable by death - and that the police were powerless to stop him.

"For all I knew, he was telling the truth," the tourist said.

Sitting in a chair in the corner of Taylor's office, from around 7pm to 7am, the tourist claims he was slapped, struck with an open palm, punched, elbowed in the face and kneed in his ribcage. "There was nothing I could say or do to prevent Colin from hitting me." During the evening, Taylor told the tourist to look in the mirror. "I saw a very bruised, puffy, horrible face. I couldn't believe that was what I looked like." The alleged victim also said he was struck in the knee with a heavy knobbed carved walking stick, had his lip slashed with small gardening shears and was stabbed in the leg with a metal object. Bleeding profusely from his head, he said, there was blood over him, the chair, the floor and the walls.

He said that Taylor also accused him of stealing $5000, and "that I better come up with it or I'm dead"; threatened to cut his eyes out, plant drugs on him and call the police, and told him to choose which bone he wanted broken with the heavy wooden walking stick. He was afraid to run away, as Taylor told him that gang connections in Los Angeles would kill his family and that police in New Zealand would have no choice but to bring him back to Taylor's home.

"Colin put his face six inches from mine, looked me straight in the eye and said: 'I'm going to bury you, motherf*****, and I'm going to enjoy it'.

"I had made the decision to die so that my family would be safe."

He escaped when Taylor left the room, through the window. Battered and bruised, he fled into a neighbour's home, and begged the family to hide him but not call the police, as he still believed that Taylor had more authority.

He was then taken to Auckland Hospital by ambulance, interviewed by police and then flew home to California the next day.

The man has since been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and clinical depression. He will return to New Zealand to testify at the trial.

Taylor will appear in the Auckland District Court next month for a trial date to set.

TORTURE CLAIMS
According to verbal evidence given at Auckland District Court.

January 27, 2006:

* American tourist, 25, arrives in New Zealand for a three-month holiday.

January 30:

* Introduced to tohunga Colin Breed Taylor as part of a Kiwi Experience bus tour. Taylor tells him he is "family"; tourist then travels around New Zealand.

April:

* Tourist returns to Auckland and is invited to stay with Taylor.

* Taylor tells the tourist that he has a $5000 debt but says he won't charge the tourist for the teaching.

* Taylor becomes aggressive and holds the tourist against his will for 12 hours, allegedly beating him with a carved walking stick and pliers.

* Tourist escapes by jumping out a window and fleeing to Taylor's neighbours.

August 2006:

* Taylor appears in court and pleads not guilty to two charges of assault.

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