Community leader gets non-custodial sentence

By Imran Ali

8 comments
Kelly van Gaalen.
Kelly van Gaalen.

A prominent Kaikohe community leader jailed last year for possession of cannabis for sale has received a non-custodial sentence after a superior court quashed her conviction upon appeal.

Mother-of-three Kelly van Gaalen appeared for sentencing in the Whangarei District Court yesterday on the same charge and was ordered to perform 300 hours community work and to observe a curfew for five months between 7pm and 7am.

Van Gaalen's re-sentencing followed a sentencing indication given by Judge John McDonald last month which she accepted. The Crown withdrew one charge of cultivating cannabis at yesterday's sentencing.

Van Gaalen sobbed at the conclusion of the court proceeding yesterday and flanked by her husband Jasper, thanked her lawyer Catherine Cull before heading downstairs to sign paperwork pertaining to her sentence. She did not wish to comment when approached by the Northern Advocate.

Van Gaalen was first sentenced in the Kaikohe District Court to two years imprisonment in July 2015 after a jury found her guilty on the charge. Her family, friends and supporters condemned the sentence as harsh and sparked a "Free Kelly van Gaalen" movement.

She appealed her conviction in the Court of Appeal and won but the details of the appeal are suppressed.

Van Gaalen was a former member of the Kaikohe-Hokianga Community Board, chairwoman of the community arts council and worked for the Kaikohe Business Association. She also received a Local Heroes medal in 2014.

Her downfall came about by chance - a violent home invasion in 2014 where three armed men beat up her husband. The court heard that police found a bucket and a snap lock bag full of dried cannabis at her home. It weighed 684g. Van Gaalen has said the marijuana was for personal use and to give to about 20 of her friends.

Yesterday Judge McDonald said van Gaalen had accepted the fact that the way she used cannabis was wrong.

- Northern Advocate

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