Family want to hear 'sorry'

By JO-MARIE BROWN

The family of Gareth MacFadyen, who was burned to death after his grass skirt was set alight at an office Christmas party, want to hear one word from the colleague responsible - "sorry."

Ian MacFadyen has spoken of his family's grief after his 24-year-old son fell victim to Matthew Paul Schofield's "practical joke" at Merrill Lynch's party in December.

Schofield, sentenced in the High Court at Auckland yesterday to two years' imprisonment, had sent a letter to the MacFadyens about having lit their son's grass skirt with a cigarette lighter.

But outside the court, Ian MacFadyen said he "would have preferred to have seen a word in there called sorry."

Justice Rodney Hansen accepted that Schofield was genuinely remorseful but the Auckland Crown Solicitor, Simon Moore pointed out that the letter, "while riddled with words of concern and sympathy," did not actually say "sorry."

The 27-year-old investment banker pleaded guilty last month to one charge of manslaughter and one of injuring by an unlawful act after he reached under a toilet cubicle in the Quay West Towers and lit his colleague's Hawaiian skirt.

Schofield was ordered to pay $27,000 reparation to the MacFadyens and $10,000 to Angela Offwood, who was in the toilet cubicle with Gareth and was severely burned.

Ms Offwood wept throughout the sentencing as Justice Hansen described the devastating effect Schofield's actions had had.

The MacFadyen family's trauma was magnified by the horrific circumstances of their son's death, while Ms Offwood had had six plastic surgery operations with 800 staples to hold her skin grafts in place.

She would have to wear special pressure garments until August 2002.

Justice Hansen acknowledged that Schofield had also suffered psychologically. "You face the Herculean task of having to come to terms with what you have done."

Mr Moore had submitted that jailing was appropriate to recognise the sanctity of human life.

Schofield had played "pranks" throughout the evening, having previously tried to light people's hats and Mr MacFadyen's skirt.

Although the flames did not take hold on the clothing, Quay West staff told Schofield to stop messing around.

But the warnings were ignored.

Mr Moore said the fire lit in the toilet cubicle could not be seen as an isolated incident.

"He knew what he was doing, he knew what he had done."

Defence lawyer Stuart Grieve, QC, said alcohol had prevented Schofield from realising the stupidity of his actions at the time, to which Justice Hansen agreed.

"In fact, Mr Schofield, I believe the explanation for your behaving the way you did ... can be reduced to one word, and that is alcohol.

"I believe you were drunk and out of control," the judge said.

Schofield had not known his actions would cause such terrible injuries and the inherent danger of the situation did not occur to him, Mr Grieve told the court.

Schofield sat impassively throughout the four-hour sentencing and was granted leave to apply for home detention.

Family and friends wept at the decision, as Mr Grieve had advocated a suspended prison sentence based on Schofield's good character, lack of premeditation, remorse, and willingness to pay reparation.

Justice Hansen told Schofield he was already enduring a punishment far greater than the judge could impose.

"You took the life of a friend ... For you, as well as the victims, the nightmare of that night will never be over."

The Schofield and MacFadyen families spent some time talking with each other yesterday before emerging from court.

Ian MacFadyen said both families were enduring the hardest time of their lives. "None of this is their fault. It's not our fault either - it's only the fault of one person."

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