A Tauranga pool attendant has been convicted of assaulting a 14-year-old girl after he inappropriately hugged her outside the pool complex during a work break.
John Trevor Hill, 50, of Bellevue, who was stood down from his job until the charge was resolved, pleaded guilty to the assault charge in Tauranga District Court yesterday.
Hill, who has a previous conviction for assaulting another young girl, is employed by Tauranga City Aquatics, but his latest assault conviction means his future employment at the pools is now under review, the court was told.
Tauranga City Aquatics is the Tauranga City Council's pools company which run the city's community-owned pools.
Hill was yesterday sentenced to 75 hours' community work, and ordered to pay $500 emotional harm compensation to his victim.
According to the police summary of facts the assault took place in June, but police say the offence was the culmination of earlier approaches to the girl as she walked to and from school.
During his work breaks Hill would sit on a park bench outside the pool complex and between April and June he regularly chatted with the victim, that included him saying "hi pretty girl" and "hi gorgeous" on one occasion as well as inquiring about her day.
When the victim told Hill she was having a bad day, he hugged her making her feel awkward and uncomfortable and in tears she ran back to school and told her form teachers what happened.
The victim told police she felt Hill had tried to drag out the hug.
Hill subsequently approached the victim and tried to make an apology, concerned he would get in trouble if she told anyone.
He told police he only hugged the victim because she told him she was feeling bad, but acknowledged he was taught in his job not to touch children unless it was an emergency situation.
He also stated that being a father, he would be up in arms if a stranger had hugged his child.
Hill's lawyer, Rebekah Webby, told Judge Robert Wolff her client denied making improper remarks to the victim but accepted that his actions were inappropriate.
Hill's past assault conviction against another young girl related to him grabbing her hand outside Otumoetai College, but was intended to prevent her running out on the road, she said.
She argued that given that the circumstances of this recent assault were relatively low level, the matter could be dealt with a conviction and emotional harm payment to his victim.
Ms Webby said Hill had been stood down from his job and now his work status would be under review.
Hill had definitely learned his lesson as it had put his job as a lifeguard in jeopardy and he intended to never speak to or approach anyone else in a similar nature again, she said.
Police prosecutor Sergeant Barry Woon told the judge that in his view this assault was no minor matter and the circumstances together with Hill's past similar conviction brought to mind the term grooming.
Sexual grooming of a minor is specific criminal offence.
Judge Wolff agreed with Mr Woon. He said he noted Hill had originally been charged with indecent assault but the charge was reduced, possibly because there was a legal argument available to him to support his contention that there was no indecent intent.
"However, the underlying facts of this case do concern me, particularly your access to young persons in the position you hold ... This offending was an utterly inappropriate thing for someone to have done in the job you do."
Judge Wolff said he must also take into account Hill's previous similar conviction which resulted in him being ordered to come up before court if called upon.
"I'm concerned about the escalation [in offending] but I must deal with you in relation to the charge you face."
The judge ordered Hill to pay $500 to his victim and imposed community work to send a clear message to him and others how seriously this conduct was viewed.
In a written statement, TCAL chief executive Tania Delahunty said: "This matter has been dealt with by the police who TCAL have co-operated fully with. As this is an employment issue we cannot discuss the details but we are confident that appropriate steps have been taken."