Catherine Gaffaney is a general reporter based in Auckland.

Mother of West Coast teen Mitchell Heward who died after drinking heavily doesn't blame alcohol supplier

The Heward family from left: Ron, Gerald, Jan, Laura and Mitchell. Photo / Supplied
The Heward family from left: Ron, Gerald, Jan, Laura and Mitchell. Photo / Supplied

The mother of a 17-year-old boy who died after drinking heavily says she has no resentment towards his older friend who supplied him alcohol.

West Coast teenager Mitchell Heward died after a party at Lake Kaniere on February 13. Partygoers had been drinking beer and spirits from a tube and funnel.

Brendan Perrin, 22, has pleaded guilty to supplying Heward with alcohol.

He will be sentenced in November and is seeking diversion. Heward's father, Ron, has written Perrin a letter of support.

"He was one of Mitchell's best friends," Heward's mother, Jan, said.

"He was swimming in the lake when it happened. We are not blaming him."

Ministry of Justice figures obtained by the Herald show in the past five years on average just 21 people a year have been convicted of supplying or selling alcohol to a minor.

The crime carriers a maximum penalty of a $2000 fine.

Jan said she wasn't convinced a harsher penalty was needed, but wanted more education around the dangers of alcohol.

Hokitika teenager Mitchell Heward died after a drinking binge on February 13, 2016. Photo / Facebook
Hokitika teenager Mitchell Heward died after a drinking binge on February 13, 2016. Photo / Facebook

"It needs to be drummed into teens that alcohol can kill you... Don't believe stupid things; peer pressure from other people saying it's going to be alright. Mitchell was a solid kid...

"Nothing is going to bring him back."

Her son wasn't a drinker and alcohol had never been an issue in their family, she said.

"He was a really good kid. He had focus and was saving really really hard. He had bought himself a car and had a motorbike, had furnished his home and he and his friend were planning to buy a farm together and go overseas.

"He was going places... I don't know if you ever get over it."

Alcohol Healthwatch director Rebecca Williams was also unsure there should be a harsher penalty for supply to minors.

"It very very rarely gets picked up and acted on. If we're going to take it seriously, we need to firstly look at the wider culture..

"Drinking alcohol is so normal in New Zealand... Why would we expect young people to have a different expectation of consuming?"

Data recently released by the Health Promotion Agency found more than half of 15 to 17 year olds consumed alcohol at a "risky level".

"Education is an element that we need to include as a supportive tool but works best is the state taking action on creating an environment that promotes healthy choices," Williams said.

"We've seen it play out with tobacco to positive effect - don't see advertising for tobacco anywhere, don't even see it back of dairies now, it's locked away. That sends a really strong signal that tobacco use is not appropriate in our society.

"I'm not saying alcohol is inappropriate in that same sense but more needs to be done to address the culture of harmful drinking.

"More needs to be done to honour families... Each death is a family, a community that is grieving."

In the Greymouth District Court last month, Perrin was remanded to November 22 for diversion to be considered.

A second man, who was jointly charged, is to reappear in court later this month.

Jan said there wouild always be questions. There were others with her son who poured alcohol down a funnel into her son's throat.

"I know their names now but I don't know them. They were gatecrashers at the party. They stole the alcohol and they fed it to my son. It does my head in."

- NZ Herald

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