Mt Wellington manslaughter crash father may be freed in year

An Auckland father today convicted of the manslaughter of his nine-year-old daughter will be eligible to get out of prison in a year.

Garth Duwayne Abbott left a court dock in tears after being sentenced over the death of his daughter Britney, who was killed when he drove off Mt Wellington in August, 2005.

During sentencing in the High Court at Auckland, Justice Mark Cooper said a minimum non-parole period was not appropriate.

That means Abbott would be eligible for parole after a third of his sentence which would be in 18 months. After taking into account the six months Abbott had already served, he could apply to be let out on parole in 12 months.

Abbott was found not guilty of the murder of Britney but guilty of her manslaughter after he drove his four wheel drive vehicle off the 150m slope of Mt Wellington during a domestic dispute with his wife in a cellphone call.

Abbott's daughters Britney and Shirvaun, four, were not wearing seat belts and the vehicle bounced off the ground twice before coming to rest in trees.

The court heard Britney was flung out of the vehicle and hit a tree branch. She died instantly. Shirvaun and Abbott were also injured.

A jury also found Abbott not guilty of the attempted murder of Shirvaun.

In Court today crown prosecutor Brian Dickey said he did not accept Abbott was remorseful. Abbott had not accepted he had done any wrong which had caused the death of his daughter.

"This was truly, very bad driving," Mr Dickey told the court when he sought an eight to 10-year jail sentence and a minimum non-parole period of half the sentence.

It fell at the top end of "what might be called motor vehicle manslaughter," Mr Dickey said.

However, Abbott's lawyer Gary Gotlieb, said his client accepted he was responsible for his daughter's death and had offered to plead guilty to a charge of dangerous driving causing death. There was no response to that offer, he told the court.

Abbott had never been anything other than genuinely remorseful for what he did and had taken responsibility for what had happened.

Justice Cooper said because of Abbott's daughters' rare medical conditions Abbott was in a state of "considerable agitation" the day Britney died.

Both girls were born with Usher Syndrome which would leave them deaf and blind.

When he left home he left his wedding ring behind and took a video of his daughters saying goodbye to their mother. That video had never been recovered.

He had said during a cellphone call to his wife and the police that he was going to take care of things and did not ensure his daughters were wearing seatbelts.

"You were obviously driving dangerously when you must have known the need for care," the judge said.

Later he was to tell the person preparing a pre-sentence report that he was already serving a life sentence over the death of his daughter.

The judge said the starting point was five-and-a-half years but that would be reduced by one year because he had suffered a tragic loss and his wife and surviving daughter wanted him back.

After the sentencing the officer in charge, Detective Inspector Julian Rinckes said the sentence sent a message about the seriousness of the crime which deserved a significant jail term.

Mr Gotlieb said the sentence gave Abbott closure.

"He just wanted it all finished. He is subdued but grateful. He has got some closure and just wants to get back to his family as soon as he can."

He said Abbott would not benefit financially from a deal the family had done to sell the story to a women's magazine.

"He gets none of it."

He said the family had a lot of financial difficulties and the money from the women's magazine would help.

- NZPA

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