As teenager is facing up to 14 years in prison after pleading guilty to helping a close friend take his own life.

The 17-year-old was charged with assisting suicide after the body of his 16-year-old friend was found at a Christchurch playground in September.

A top lawyer said last night he believed the defendant was the youngest person convicted of the offence in New Zealand.

The youth pleaded guilty when he appeared in the Youth Court this month. He cannot be named for legal reasons.

Because of the seriousness of the allegations, he will be sentenced in the Christchurch District Court.

According to the police summary of facts, the defendant, who was 16 at the time, provided the equipment his friend used to take his own life - and helped him use it.

The summary contains grim details of the level of planning involved in the offence, including the deceased's attempts to hire a hitman and source a firearm.

The deceased was unsuccessful in his first attempt to take his life, so he and the defandant then found different materials, which the defandant set up for the deceased. That attempt was, sadly, successful.

Legal expert Nigel Hampton QC was only aware of one other case of assisting suicide in New Zealand in the past 15 years.

He said most people charged over helping others to die - usually the result of mercy killings - were charged with murder or attempted murder.

"The only other one I can think of was in 1994 when a chap helped his tetraplegic mate kill himself," he said.

"He was sentenced to nine months' jail but the Court of Appeal reversed the decision and put him on supervision for a year."

Hampton said it was unlikely the accused in this case would face a custodial sentence.

"Given his youth ... and assuming the other chap really wanted to die, really wanted to kill himself, I would be surprised if he got a custodial sentence.

Canterbury Neighbourhood Support spokesman Pat Creasey said he was shocked by the death.

"It's terrible for the parents, it's every parent's nightmare.

"It's such a sad one, it really is. We always encourage people, if they see things going on that are not quite right to do something about it."

Phil Clearwater, chairman of the community board for the Sydenham area, said the 16-year-old's death was "terribly sad".

"For his family, his friends and his school. It also has a sad impact on the community."

Where to go for help
* If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111. Or call Youthline 0800 376 633, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Depression Helpline 0800 111 757, What's Up 0800 942 8787 (noon-midnight).
*Suicide Prevention Information New Zealand has more information about mental health services and contact information for counsellors, doctors and support groups. Visit: www.spinz.org.nz.
*The Ministry of Health also offers information at www.depression.org.nz.
*Teens can visit www.thelowdown.co.nz.

- additional reporting Christchurch Star