Derek Roach has, presumably, not read The Slap, the best-selling book by Christos Tsiolkas, adapted into a TV series currently showing on TV3. If he had, he might have acted differently when an 8-year-old boy rang his doorbell and ran away.
The artist and retired research engineer had been the butt of a "knock and run" campaign by local boys for two months, Perth Magistrates Court heard last week. So when he emerged from his home in the beachside suburb of Cottesloe and found the 8-year-old hiding nearby, he snapped. Roach struck the boy repeatedly across the face. Tsiolkas' novel focuses on the repercussions of a slap administered to an obnoxious 3-year-old at a backyard barbecue in Melbourne by Harry, the host's cousin. The boy's mother insists on prosecuting Harry, but the court declines to record a conviction.
Roach, 62, was not so lucky. The magistrate, Graeme Calder, found him guilty of common assault and fined him A$1000 ($1295).
The assault took place on December 11 last year, shortly before the start of the summer school break. Four or five children were playing knock and run; at 5.45pm they rang the buzzer on Roach's front gate. He opened the door, saw the children running away and yelled at them: "Hey, guys, cut it out! That's enough."
Fifteen minutes later the bell rang again, according to the police prosecutor, Sergeant Paul McKee. Roach ran out and found the 8-year-old boy trying to hide behind a gate in an adjacent laneway. "Are you one of the kids that was ringing my doorbell?" he asked him, before grabbing him by the shoulder and slapping him four or five times. Roach then marched the boy - who was uninjured - to his home, just up the road, where he told his mother what had happened. The boy's mother was outraged and called the police. According to Roach's lawyer, Richard Lawson, police were reluctant to charge him but the mother insisted.
Lawson said that, according to Roach, the slap was "more of a swipe ... He held him by the hand and swiped him with an open [hand] and said 'Don't do that again'." His actions were out of character, he said. "He's a sensitive and caring father ... He's devastated by this."
Lawson added that Roach - who entered a late guilty plea - had become frustrated by the children, who had been ringing his bell four or five times a week.
Calder granted him a spent conviction (one that can be effectively ignored after a specified amount of time), taking into account his clean record and "very responsible" actions in taking the boy home, and not concealing that he had hit him.