'I'll never hug my son'

By Jimmy Ellingham

Angry parents say justice system is protecting boys whose attack after rugby ended their 15-year-old’s life

Mona and Brent Dudley are opposed to the names of the two assailants staying secret. Photo / Michael Craig
Mona and Brent Dudley are opposed to the names of the two assailants staying secret. Photo / Michael Craig

The heartbroken parents of Auckland teenager Stephen Dudley, who died when he was assaulted after rugby training, feel powerless and upset by a justice system they say is protecting the boys responsible for their grief.

Brent and Mona Dudley are unhappy that two teenage boys, whose names are permanently suppressed, won't stand trial for the manslaughter of their 15-year-old son.

Stephen died on June 6 last year in Auckland City Hospital, shortly after the assault in Kelston.

Described by his dad as a "true gentleman", he never threw a punch at his attackers.

Stephen Dudley.
Stephen Dudley.

In the High Court at Auckland yesterday, one of them pleaded guilty to assaulting him with intent to injure.

He was to have faced trial for manslaughter but the Crown said medical evidence concerning an undiagnosed heart condition Stephen suffered from meant there was no reasonable chance of a conviction on that charge.

Justice Mark Cooper ordered a pre-sentencing report that would look at home detention as an option.

The judge did not enter a conviction, meaning a discharge without conviction is possible, as happened this year to the other, younger, attacker. That boy pleaded guilty to assault after the manslaughter charge he faced was also withdrawn.

All this has left Mr and Mrs Dudley feeling bewildered and struggling to accept that the attackers are not being charged with Stephen's death.

They do not support name suppression, as they say it allows the boys - one of whom plays top-level sport - to continue their lives in anonymity and not be associated with their "thuggish" behaviour. "Their mother still gets to kiss them on the head and give them a hug," Mrs Dudley said yesterday. "I will never have that, not with my elder son."

The Dudleys' grief has been public knowledge, including a December incident when Mrs Dudley accidentally shot her husband in the chest during an argument.

"We put on a big brave face and we go to work and do our thing and we're still involved in the community," Mr Dudley said. "But we're as heartbroken now as we've ever been."

Mr Dudley plans to attend the older boy's sentencing, look him in the eye and read a victim impact statement. In earlier court appearances, he didn't feel the teen was remorseful.

The Dudleys aren't even sure if the two teens know the enormity of what they did and the lasting effect Stephen's death has had on his family.

"Our son had so many positive and good things he offered the world. He was just that special guy," Mr Dudley said. "It's the viciousness of what they did. That's what we want to emphasise."

The Dudleys don't feel ready to meet the two teens. Apart from the sentencing, their focus is now on unveiling Stephen's gravestone, donated by Sanctuary Memorials.

They are planning a public unveiling because "he was everybody's big brother in this community".

- APNZ

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