Home detention for man who broke baby's legs

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Hall admitted he had bent the child's leg back behind her neck. Photo / File
Hall admitted he had bent the child's leg back behind her neck. Photo / File

A young Hawke's Bay father who broke his daughter's legs and caused other injuries in assaults before she was four-months-old has escaped jail.

Appearing before Justice Mary Peters in the High Court in Napier, James Robert Hall, 20, copped the maximum possible home detention sentence of 12 months for causing the injuries between when the girl was born in November 2010 and when she was taken to hospital with her injuries in March last year.

Living with mother and child in Napier at that time but originally from Hastings, he pleaded guilty in May this year to one charge of causing the toddler grievous bodily harm with intent to injure on May 20, 2011, and one of causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard for her safety, a charge representing other injuries she had received previously.

The court was told that when interviewed by police, alerted by doctors after the girl's arrival with her mother at the hospital in March last year, Hall admitted he had bent the child's leg back behind her neck, and at other times he had clutched her tightly.

It led to admissions he was having problems coping and bonding with the infant.
Medical examination of the girl revealed arm and leg fractures and evidence of older injuries.

Reading a victim impact statement to the court, the mother said she and Hall starting going together when she was 15, and were together for more than three years.

She said Hall "always" offered to look after the baby, and she never saw any sign of him not being able to cope, and had accepted his explanations for bruising which he put down to such things as a seatbelt being too tight.

She had been aware the baby would cry whenever Hall held her, but said: "I now realise it was because she was scared of him."

She had trusted him to be alone with the girl, but told the court: "I don't understand why he put himself in that situation when he couldn't cope.

"He did nothing to help his suffering daughter.

"He even tried to stop me going to the doctor.

"James had so many opportunities to say what was going on," she said, struggling to comprehend how he could deny responsibility, "right up to the time" of the police arrival claiming the injuries were caused by the child rolling off the couch.

Each charge carried a maximum penalty of seven years' jail, but the judge set three years and three months as a starting point for determining the outcome, meeting almost half-way the respective claims of Crown prosecutor Russell Collins (about four years) and defence counsel Scott Jefferson (two and a half years).

She deducted 20 per cent to recognise his youthfulness, and another 25 per cent for the admissions, which alleviated any need for a trial.

The mathematics took it to just under two years, the threshold at which she could consider home detention, which she conceded would in a case such as that before the court be "very rare".

"Anyone who thinks home detention is a soft option should think again," the judge said.

She added that "many people" sentenced to home detention soon start to think they might be "better off in prison," because of the extra "freedom".

She approved a Hastings flat as the address where Hall must remain 24/7 for the next year unless allowed otherwise by his probation officer.

He is not to have care of or be alone with anyone aged 10 or under.

While Hall was laid-off as an apprentice painter and decorator and is currently unemployed, the judge was concerned that he should be able to complete his apprenticeship, and be in a position to financially support his daughter, and declined to order any community work.

Meanwhile, Hall's former employer, having listened to months of "explanations" as he helped Hall before learning of the child abuse and charges only after the admissions in May, is stunned the convicted man is now suing him for wrongful dismissal.

It was a seasonal layoff, he said, with Hall having held his job through a similar period last year.

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