A man who photographed teen girls in their swimwear at a beach by using a zoom lens while crouching out of sight has had his conviction quashed by New Zealand's highest court.

Graham Thomas Rowe was found by an off-duty police officer on January 23, 2016, photographing three teenage girls on Kaiteriteri beach near Nelson.

The zoom lens of Rowe's camera was fully extended and the police officer noted Rowe was crouching behind a campervan.

When the officer approached him, Rowe acknowledged he had been taking photos without the permission of the girls or the adults with them.


Rowe showed the officer photography equipment he had been using, but an examination of his laptop showed a large number of photos of young girls, some of whom were in swimwear.

However, a forensic analysis of the laptop revealed no objectionable material.

Rowe was nonetheless charged and convicted after a jury trial of doing an indecent act with intent to insult.

He appealed the conviction but it was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Rowe appealed again to New Zealand's highest court, and today, the Supreme Court quashed his conviction and made no order for a retrial.

The court said the circumstances around Rowe's actions were enough for the jury to conclude the act of taking the photographs was indecent having regard to generally accepted community standards.

However, the Supreme Court granted leave for Rowe to question whether he should have been convicted.

Rowe argued the photos alone could not amount to an indecent act, nor could taking photos of what may ordinarily be seen in public comprise an offence.

He also argued that his trial judge misdirected the jury as to what was required for him to have an intention to insult.

The Crown said an "indecent act" had to be seen as indecent by right-thinking members of the community.

It also said the "intent to insult" included the possibility that what was insulted was the complainants' rights to modesty or privacy.

The Supreme Court, however, unanimously allowed the appeal - and quashed the conviction.

It did not order a retrial because there was not enough evidence that the conduct in question could amount to the offence.

The Supreme Court judges found that the surrounding circumstances, such as motive or prurient purpose, could not elevate Rowe's acts, which were not intrinsically indecent, to acts which were an offence.

The judges also ruled it was not possible to prove Rowe intended to insult because the images he took were not indecent.