Warning: This story discusses child exploitation and self-harm.
A former member of a high-profile New Zealand charitable organisation sentenced for possessing images of children being sexually abused will keep his name secret forever.
The man’s name, occupation and other identifying details have been permanently suppressed by Judge Jo Rielly today in the Wellington District Court.
Judge Rielly said the tests needed to prove his case warranted permanent suppression was met “by a significant margin”.
He has had interim name suppression since he was charged after a Department of Internal Affairs investigation. He was caught with more than 900 images and videos on three separate devices, some of the material depicted sexual abuse of children and babies.
The man applied for permanent name suppression when he was sentenced to eight months’ home detention in March. Today, a hearing was held to challenge that application.
While delivering her decision Judge Rielly, acknowledged the rehabilitation the man had undergone and the low risk of reoffending he posed.
His significant risk of suicide, outlined by forensic psychiatrist Dr Justin Barry-Walsh, was also a large part of her decision.
Judge Rielly said the psychiatrist’s assessment of the man, as suffering from significant depressive illness and anxiety with a high risk of suicide, “cannot and should not be ignored”.
“And those circumstances, by a significant margin, I consider the first threshold test is made out in your case,” she said. “I have already assessed that by a significant margin, you will suffer extreme hardship if your name is published.”
Public interest, a topic in today’s hearing described by Judge Rielly as a “controversial principle”, was raised but she said she believed hardship to the man far outweighed any argument.
“You were highly regarded by people at all levels of that organisation when you worked with them,” she said.
“For all of that to be taken away from you because of your misconduct and for your life to be turned essentially upside down has had an absolutely profound effect on your emotional well-being.”
Judge Rielly said the offending itself was concerning and considered abhorrent by many people, but added the man himself had acknowledged this, “even though you committed it”.
His lawyer Letizea Ord earlier argued if her client’s name was published, there would be a “significant” risk of suicide as he suffers from “fragile mental health”. That risk combined with the impact on employment qualified as extreme hardship.
“The balancing exercise does weigh in favour of suppression,” she said.
Her submissions were bolstered by evidence from medical practitioners, including forensic psychiatrist, Dr Barry-Walsh, who believed permanent name suppression should be put in place.
Ord criticised media companies Stuff and NZME during the hearing, claiming their interest in publicising his name was “clickbait reporting for commercial gain”.
Daniel Nilsson, on behalf of Stuff, argued the high threshold for permanent name suppression wasn’t met by Ord’s submissions. He said there was a public interest in reporting the man’s name.
“Name suppression isn’t a reward, it’s a protective measure,” he said.
The man had applied to the Wellington District Court for a discharge without conviction in November last year but was denied. In March he was sentenced to home dentition on four charges of possessing objectionable material and two of distributing objectionable material.
At sentencing, Ord said her client had been fully co-operative during the investigation process and admitted to his offending from the outset.
She said he had shown genuine remorse and disgust at his offending.
In July 2021, the DIA traced the man’s activities after his use of a specific online username during their investigation into two other people he appeared to have received material from.
When police searched his home, hundreds of incriminating images and videos depicting sexual abuse and exploitation of children were found on his devices. Other images related to bestiality and of adults engaging in acts involving excrement and urine.
The distribution of the objectionable material was said to have occurred in 2020. Between April and October that year he also received video images, which he was said to have responded to in a way to suggest he was sexually aroused.
He wasn’t charged until almost a year after his home was searched.
The DIA opposed his application for permanent suppression.
Hazel Osborne is an Open Justice reporter for NZME and is based in Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington. She joined the Open Justice team at the beginning of 2022, previously working in Whakatāne as a court and crime reporter in the Eastern Bay of Plenty.