John is a senior reporter at the Bay of Plenty Times

Grandfather weeps as he escapes conviction for dog attack on 6-year-old

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Tears of relief flowed when an elderly Paengaroa man whose dog mauled his 6-year-old grandson was discharged without conviction.

The family of Graham Leslie Hartley wept and hugged outside the Tauranga courtroom after Judge Stephen Coyle decided the grandfather had suffered enough.

Mr Hartley, 75, had earlier admitted a charge of owning a dog that caused injury. His lawyer Kaye Davies sought the discharge because of the facts behind the attack and the devastating impact it had had on his life.

"I'll go to bed tonight and sleep right through," Mr Hartley told the Bay of Plenty Times about the weight that had been lifted off his shoulders.

Graham and Marlene Hartley outside Tauranga District Court after Mr Hartley was discharged without conviction for owning a dog that caused an injury. Photo/George Novak
Graham and Marlene Hartley outside Tauranga District Court after Mr Hartley was discharged without conviction for owning a dog that caused an injury. Photo/George Novak

Describing the impact on his life, he said he could not speak for two days after the attack and did not leave Tainui's bedside for three weeks.

Judge Coyle said the facts were tragic and involved a grandfather's close relationship with his grandson in which Mr Hartley was the most important male figure in the boy's life and the boy was often at his property.

Recounting what happened on October 11, 2015, the judge said Mr Hartley was busy cutting firewood when Tainui asked him if he could feed the dogs. Mr Hartley did not reply and kept on working.

He suddenly realised the boy was not around and looked across to the kennels where he saw the dog was out of the cage and mauling Tainui.

HAPPY TOGETHER: Graham Hartley and grandson Tainui Hartley-Whareaorere enjoying each other's company.PHOTO/JOHN BORREN
HAPPY TOGETHER: Graham Hartley and grandson Tainui Hartley-Whareaorere enjoying each other's company.PHOTO/JOHN BORREN

Judge Coyle said Mr Hartley was a responsible dog owner and kept the cages secure. On this occasion his grandson opened the cage and the dog had got out.

He said the dog had no previous history of aggression. "The dog was not known to be a dangerous breed ... for reasons we will never know, it attacked the boy."

Tainui received severe head and facial injuries to the point where he was nearly unrecognisable and needed two operations lasting 12 hours.

Judge Coyle said the consequences of the attack had been traumatic not only for Tainui but for his grandfather, who had been devastated.

In summing up whether to grant the application for a discharge without conviction, the judge said: "At the end of the day, it was a very easy decision."

The dog was not known to be a dangerous breed ... for reasons we will never know, it attacked the boy.
Graham Hartley

It was not just a court of law but a court of justice and justice dictated that Mr Hartley's remorse and trauma was far greater than punishment the court could impose. The boy would be a tragic reminder of what happened, he said.

Relief among family members was obvious after the decision. Weeping and hugging outside the courtroom showed the bond that Mr Hartley had with his family.

"Tainui even called in this morning and I walked him to school," Mr Hartley said.

He described Tainui as a boisterous, loveable kid who dropped in every day after school.

"He is into everything, there is always something to do."

At the end of the day, it was a very easy decision.
Judge Stephen Coyle

Tainui's mother Carol Hartley-Whareaorere said the judge had made the correct decision on an attack that had brought grandfather and grandson closer together.

She said Tainui had mentally recovered but he was still scarred and would need more operations.

Mr Hartley said the support from whanau, friends and neighbours had played a big part in the decision by Judge Coyle. "There was huge support from my family. It was a good outcome. I am happy and the family is happy."

The thousands of dollars raised on the donations website Givealittle had met family expenses associated with Tainui's Auckland Starship Hospital operations.

The dog was destroyed.

Mr Hartley had no previous convictions. The charge carried a maximum penalty of three years in jail.

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