A man who set up a meth-cooking drug operation in his family home has been slammed by a judge for tying up precious court time by waiting until the week before his trial was due to start to plead guilty.
Karl John Hewitson initially pleaded not guilty to a raft of meth and firearm-related charges laid in 2020 but changed his plea to guilty two years later just before his trial was about to begin.
At his sentencing in the Whangārei District Court this week Judge Deidre Orchard expressed her frustration at the impact this had on the court.
“We have a huge backlog of trials in Whangārei and if people plead very late, it has an impact on people waiting, desperate for trial and we cannot use that trial time, because your pleas have come too late,” Judge Orchard said.
The backlog of trials in Whangārei, in particular the High Court, has been highlighted in court recently, with Justice Timothy Brewer calling it “unacceptable” that the closest trial dates are now in late 2025.
Hewitson appeared for sentence on one charge of producing methamphetamine, one charge of possession of methamphetamine for supply, three charges of possession of equipment to produce methamphetamine, one charge of receiving stolen goods, two charges of possession of a firearm and one charge of possession for supply of methamphetamine after police executed two search warrants at his house he shared with his partner and child.
“What you’re doing setting up a drug operation in the family home, I do not know,” Judge Orchard said of the location of his offending.
Hewitson’s meth-cooking history dates back to 2003 when he was sentenced to three years for manufacturing. He was caught again in 2007, connected to the million-dollar meth operation of Mangōnui man Maxwell Beckham and sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment for his role.
In his latest offending in 2020, police searched 50-year-old Hewitson’s family home and found a total of 4.1 grams of methamphetamine, various substances, equipment and utensils used to manufacture methamphetamine, a 32 calibre bolt action rifle hidden in a wall and ammunition stashed around the property.
A smartphone was also seized with information about drug deals and clients indicating the scale of the operation.
Crown lawyer, Danica Soich argued at his sentencing this week that Hewitson continually chose to go back to this type of offending in order to make money.
“Four separate occasions he has used these skills to make money; he says he had to do it because his work dried up because of Covid. That only supports our position there was a commercial gain to this lab,” Soich said.
Hewitson’s lawyer Mathew Ridgley referred to a section 27 cultural report that stated his client had a pattern of addiction, relapse and a father who was a heavy drinker.
Judge Orchard did not accept that was enough to warrant a sentence discount.
“He wasn’t brought up in a violent home, he was brought up quite well ... with one parent who drank a bit ... Compared to some of the other people we have coming through here, that’s fairly normal,” Judge Orchard said.
“Section 27 reports have become fashionable and there’s nothing they can point to as real drivers ... everyone has a story to tell, it doesn’t mean they should get a discount.”
Hewitson spent 11 months in the Whangārei-based rehabilitation centre, Victory House while on bail but Ridgley said he was unable to access the programmes he required, experienced tensions within the house and ended up handing himself in to be placed back into custody.
“With all due respect, Victory House is not a place for rehab, it’s a place to get a bed,” Ridgley said.
The judge said Hewitson needed residential treatment.
“If you’re really going to beat this, you need residential treatment. It seems you go so far and then no further.
“You have plenty of options to get your addiction under control,” she said.
Hewitson was sentenced to six years imprisonment and will be required to appear before the parole board for release.
Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei-based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/Ngātiwai/Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked freelance in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.