A man with what a judge says is a 44-year history of gang and crime involvement has been given a last chance on home detention after admitting his part in a group assault on a fellow inmate at Hawke's Bay Prison.

Ernie O'Neal Paul was sentenced to eight months home detention when he appeared before Judge Geoff Rea in Napier District Court on Thursday.

Paul had pleaded guilty to assault with intent to injure, after admitting blocking access to a prison cell to prevent others from coming to the aid of a rival gang member being assaulted by four other prisoners.

The attack happened on October 21, 2017, and Judge Rea said three of the others had since been sentenced to a further 16 months' imprisonment. The fourth was yet to be sentenced.


Defence counsel James Ranger's plea for a lesser sentence on the basis of Paul's lack of participation in the assault was rejected by Judge Rea who said he was part of the plan and must have known what was going to happen.

Ranger, noting Paul's attempts to settle down in the interests of his family and children after a "horror upbringing", which was revealed in a cultural report, suggested there was "a window to perhaps treat him leniently", and offer a chance not only to the man himself but family and supporters "in the back of the court".

Crown prosecutor James Bridgman said Paul was as culpable as all four others.

Judge Rea said that although the cultural report made "horrendous reading", signs of family involvement and support and the fact Paul hadn't been convicted of violent offending in 7-8 years made it worth seeing if Paul could put his past behind him.

"Now it's over to you," the Judge said.