The wife of the Auckland father who killed his daughter by driving off the summit of Mt Wellington in Auckland has lashed out at police for prosecuting her husband.
South African-born Mirese Abbott, 28, an accounts assistant at The College of St John the Evangelist, accused the police of carrying out a race-based persecution of her husband Garth Duwayne Abbott, 29, over the death of their 9-year-old daughter Brittany.
"I have no idea what angle they were trying to use - maybe trying to damage South Africans or something," she said.
Abbott was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter in the High Court at Auckland on Wednesday. The charge carries a maximum 14-year sentence and follows Abbott's emotional race to the summit in the family 4WD on August 21, 2005, with daughters Shirvaun, 4, and Brittany as passengers. According to the crash analyst report, the vehicle tumbled 111m into the Mt Wellington quarry.
The couple separated after Brittany's death but have since reconciled. Garth Abbott will be sentenced on March 28, but he last night told the Herald on Sunday he was still deciding whether to take his family away on holiday before he is required to hand himself over to prison authorities on March 9. Mirese Abbott said: "I don't have any [faith in the police] and will not ever have any. I don't know where they were coming from." She condemned police handling of the case, accusing officers of harassment and of laying "ridiculous charges".
Garth Abbott also defended his actions. "At the end of the day, people think it is an accident," he said.
Police inquiry boss Detective Inspector Julian Rinckes labelled Mirese Abbott's comments as "preposterous". Rinckes said the case was straightforward, apart from when the girl's mother withdrew as a Crown witness moments before the case reached a depositions hearing. Racism was not a factor, he said. "It was an evidence-based prosecution. When the police got rung, how were we supposed to know what race they were? What Mirese told us originally is completely at odds with what she said later."
Immigration officials confirmed that Abbott, who arrived in New Zealand in 2003 accompanied by his wife and daughters, had no chance of becoming a New Zealand citizen.
"Once he has completed his sentence, the Department of Labour will start the removal process to send him home," Api Fiso, manager of Border Group Security, said.
"In terms of his family, any application for residency would be considered according to policy."
The prosecution case centred around the belief that Abbott deliberately drove off the cliff-face after an argument with his wife, which ended in him removing his wedding ring and taking his daughters to the Mt Wellington domain, a popular sightseeing spot.
The jury heard that Abbott made a series of emotional cellphone calls, speaking to his wife and a police constable, who had been called by Abbott's worried father-in-law Colin Young. "When I walked out the door, that was goodbye," he told Mirese during one call. "We are all going to die." Then, speaking to the police officer, Abbott gave a warning: "You're too late. I'm going to take care of it.
"I'm running out of time, I've only got about 10 seconds left," he said, prompting the constable to hand the phone back to Mirese. He then counted down: "5, 4, 3..."
The Crown case contended that Abbott's relationship with Mirese "deteriorated due to a combination of factors, including immigration status, employment issues and medical conditions affecting their children".
Brittany suffered a rare medical condition which meant she was deaf and would become blind in adulthood. Shirvaun suffers from the same condition. The court heard that Abbott had been told the family would not be granted residency because the girls would become a "burden" on the New Zealand health system.
In defence, Abbott's lawyer Gary Gotlieb said the death of the 9-year-old was nothing more than a terrible accident. He painted Abbott as a caring, devoted father who would never intentionally do anything to harm his daughter. Ex- workmate, Simon, said he was surprised at the 2005 event; he described Abbott as a "relaxed dude".