A judge yesterday sympathised with Lion Man Craig Busch, saying discovering his partner of five years in bed with a naked couple must have been "traumatic in the extreme".
The television star flew into a rage and assaulted Karen Greybrook after he returned home to find her having a threesome, a court was told.
"The three of them were in bed, naked, in circumstances that could only have left Mr Busch with the certainty that they were involved in a sexual activity involving all three," Busch's lawyer, John Haigh QC, said at yesterday's sentencing.
Busch has two weeks to pay his former partner $8000 in reparation after admitting he twice assaulted her in a fury at his wildlife park.
But the Zion Wildlife Gardens owner will face no other penalties for the January 2005 attacks, which left Ms Greybrook with injuries that included a cut above her eye which required nine stitches.
In Whangarei District Court yesterday, Judge Michael Lance said the shock of finding one's partner of five years in a threesome with friends must have been "traumatic in the extreme".
Busch, 42 - known to viewers around the world as "The Lion Man" from the TV2 series of the same name - rowed with Ms Greybrook on the morning of January 15, 2005 over the use of newly-born lion cubs in wedding pictures taken at the park. Ms Greybrook had tended the cubs from birth, and is understood to have objected to their use in the photographs.
He subsequently told her the relationship was over, then ordered her from the property, but that fact remains disputed by Busch.
The pair were to host a barbecue that day, and Ms Greybrook rang a close friend, Hermes White, who, with her husband Des, was to arrive early at the get-together to prepare the food and help look after the lion cubs.
Mrs White was working at the park at the time, after meeting Busch about six months earlier.
It was arranged the Whites would come to the party as planned, but Ms Greybrook would leave with them at the end of the night.
About 9pm, as other guests began to leave, Busch told the group that he, too, was leaving to attend a party.
Ms Greybrook and the Whites stayed at the park, drinking and playing with lion cubs. About 1.30am, they decided it was time for bed.
It was agreed the Whites would stay in a spare room. As the couple undressed and climbed into bed, Ms Greybrook stayed outside, talking to the lions in a nearby enclosure.
A short time later, she became upset again, and asked to speak with the couple.
Before long all three were together on the bed. The Whites were naked and Ms Greybrook was wearing knickers only. It was then that Busch returned home.
Busch, according to police, entered the room to find the two women embracing, and the man lying naked beside them. Screaming "no one does this to me", Busch then attempted to drag Ms Greybrook from the bed. He left the room as the couple pleaded with him to stop, and attempted to assure him nothing had happened.
He returned soon after - and as the trio hurriedly dressed - pushed his partner. She suffered a cut to her head, a fractured vertebrae and bruising. A second assault charge was laid after Busch, the morning after the attack, forced Ms Greybrook into a car and while sitting on her lap steered the vehicle out the Zion Wildlife Garden gates. He then locked her out.
Busch has a previous conviction for assaulting a female, and Crown prosecutor Peter McGee yesterday argued a sentence of community work would be "entirely appropriate". Busch's actions had caused "significant injury", he said.
"The message must not only go to this man, but to all others ... if you assault a woman in those circumstances, then the consequences will be severe."
But Mr Haigh said Busch's actions were "in a human perspective ... understandable".
Judge Lance agreed, saying Busch's reaction to finding his partner in such a position had been "human and understandable".
Given the stress Busch had endured since the attack - and his work in the community - a conviction on each of the two counts was sufficient, and no further penalty was required.
"You have contributed to your community, Mr Busch ... you are passionate about conservation and preservation and you have a reputation worldwide."
However, a victim impact report was a "troubling document" and Judge Lance ordered Busch pay his former partner $8000 in reparation.
Busch had faced 11 charges stemming from the attacks, including two charges of threatening to kill, and a count of unlawful sexual connection. Those charges were subsequently dropped after the Crown offered no evidence.
Outside court, Mr Haigh said Busch would try to put the episode behind him.
"He will just carry on conserving endangered species ... that has always been his objective."
TVNZ had a third series of the show ready to air but said a decision on when, or if, it would screen would be made in "due course".
There was nothing going on, say couple
The couple at the centre of the Lion Man three-in-a-bed assault case approached the Herald last night, furious that Craig Busch has, in their eyes, got the last word.
Hermes White said she and her husband, Des, were "really angry" about what Busch - convicted yesterday on two charges of assaulting former partner Karen Greybrook - had said on TV last night.
Busch had "tried to get sympathy from the New Zealand public, when he was the one who assaulted us", she said.
The Whites also emphasised that "there was nothing going on" between the couple and Ms Greybrook on the night in January 2005 when Busch found the trio in bed together.
Mrs White was working with Ms Greybrook at the Zion Wildlife Gardens at the time of the assaults. "Karen and I were hand-rearing the tiger cubs."
She and her husband had also been left disenchanted by the justice system after going "through hell" for the 2 1/2 years since the attack.
Nine of the charges Busch faced were dropped after his guilty pleas this week, the Crown offering no evidence.
Mrs White said she, her husband and Ms Greybrook had found the ongoing court battle over the charges "too much" and eventually decided not to give evidence.
The Whites now work in Whangarei, she at a pharmacy and he as an optometrist.
Mrs White said neither of them was embarrassed by publicity as "we did nothing wrong".
She said the couple had intermittent contact with Ms Greybrook, now living in Australia.