Discharge without conviction for scruff of the neck assault

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A Napier corner store owner is looking forward to gaining permanent New Zealand residency after fearing for months he would not be able to stay in New Zealand, after incidents which started with a 10-year-old boy throwing stones at his shop window.

Zan Li, 28, who with wife Star has run the dairy in the Latham St for about 18 months, spent two nights in custody after being charged with assaulting a child, threatening to kill, unlawful possession of the small knife he kept for cutting open cartons in his shop, and attempting to pervert the course of justice by giving the boy's siblings lollies and takeaways in what he maintains was a goodwill step aimed at stopping repeated vandalism and shoplifting

The more serious charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years' jail, was withdrawn and, at a Judge-alone trial in Napier District Court in March, the threatening and the knife charge were dismissed.

The charge of assaulting a child was withdrawn after hearing of evidence and Li pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of common assault.

Back in the court yesterday, Judge Tony Adeane discharged him without conviction, agreeing with defence counsel Scott Jefferson that the possible consequences of conviction, including being barred from re-entering New Zealand if he travelled abroad, outweighed the seriousness of the offence.

The judge also reiterated that he preferred the evidence of Li, who admitted grabbing the boy by the scruff of the neck as the child kicked him in the stomach, to that of other witnesses, who included a Child Youth and Family social worker who intervened after seeing the pair's altercation while driving past and claimed Li had slapped the child.

The events dated back to June 15 last year when a group of about three boys started throwing stones at the front of the shop, and ran off as Li appeared at the door.

It wasn't the first time, and Li was concerned there'd been no action from police after previous incidents because the boys were too young.

Viewing CCTV images he was able to the identify their school, which he visited and where he spoke to a teacher about what could be done to stop the problem.

He had told the school he didn't want the boys to get into too much trouble, he just wanted the vandalism and shoplifting to stop, and a suggestion was made that he could meet the parents and the children.

Before he had the opportunity he saw the boy and went to admonish him, but the boy kicked him in the stomach, an act the child admitted while giving evidence in court.

Li had grabbed the boy by the scruff of the neck, but was seen by the passing social worker, who stopped, intervened, rebuked Li and called the police.

Li says he didn't regard the children as "bad boys" and went to visit the parents, giving the children bags of lollies during the visit.

When he made another visit, after calling and saying he wanted to shout the children takeaways, he was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, held in custody for two nights, and had to surrender his passport.

Mr Jefferson told Judge Adeane that while Li is able to remain in New Zealand, a conviction might stop him from being allowed to return if he left to visit family.

Police prosecutor Sergeant John Ashfield agreed the offending was at the "bottom of the scale" and Judge Adeane said that he accepted Li's explanation of what he was doing on the day of the confrontation - telling the boy what was acceptable behaviour and what was not.

Judge Adeane said that much had changed in the admonishing of children, people had to be "more careful" and he expected Mr Jefferson to explain to Li more how the law applied in New Zealand.

"One has to say the circumstances create quite a measure of sympathy (for the storekeeper)," Judge Adeane said, emphasising the pressures on dairy owners throughout the country.

Li, who has refrained from serving in the shop for much of the time awaiting the legal outcome, told Hawke's Bay Today the behaviour of young people around his shop has improved, and he hopes it will get better.

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