A university academic who indecently assaulted an 82-year-old woman with dementia in a rest home had his sentence shortened because he was being publicly named.

Former Massey University journalism lecturer Grant Hannis, 55, fought to keep his name permanently suppressed arguing it would cause him and those connected to him extreme hardship.

He lost suppression when he appeared in the Wellington District Court yesterday to be sentenced for what Judge Stephen Harrop earlier described as "unbelievable offending".

Suppression lifted at midnight.

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At sentencing Judge Harrop took into account Hannis' previous good character, his contribution to the community, and his remorse, as well as the decision to lift suppression.

"There ought to be a discount to recognise the effect of publication on you as a form of penalty," he said.

He was sentenced to eight months' home detention, 100 hours' community work and ordered to pay $3000 emotional harm reparation.

Hannis sat in the dock with his eyes closed for most of the hearing. His wife sat in the public gallery with her head down, at times putting her face in one hand.

He initially claimed the offending was "two friends who just had an intimate moment together", but late last year pleaded guilty to indecent assault.

Hannis continued teaching for six months after his arrest. The university said it was never told about his arrest or the charges he was facing.

The victim, who "has slowly drifted away" and become more confused and impaired since the assault, was at her Lower North Island rest home in May 2018 when Hannis approached her and struck up a conversation.

Hannis was at the home visiting a relative.

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According to the police summary, when the victim returned to her bedroom, Hannis followed her in and shut the door behind him.

Hannis began touching and kissing the woman, who tried unsuccessfully to push him away, but he was "too forceful", according to the summary.

He then closed the curtains so that nobody could see inside, before going back to the victim to continue kissing and touching her.

"At this point, the door opened and a caregiver entered and saw the pair in darkness close together. The caregiver switched on the light," the summary said.

The caregiver noticed Hannis was red in the face and asked what was going on. When nobody replied, she left to find a manager.

Despite the intrusion, he soon resumed kissing and touching the victim, who again tried and failed to push him away.

He exposed himself to the victim before pulling down her pants and underwear.

He left a short time later.

Grant Hannis spent much of his time in the dock with his eyes closed and his head bowed, sometimes hunching over or rocking on his seat. Photo / Melissa Nightingale
Grant Hannis spent much of his time in the dock with his eyes closed and his head bowed, sometimes hunching over or rocking on his seat. Photo / Melissa Nightingale

The caregiver came back with a male nurse and found the victim alone walking out of the bathroom, wearing different pants.

Her underwear was found in the bin with blood on them.

The victim told police she didn't tell anyone for several days because she was ashamed.

"I just want to forget everything."

The woman's daughter described how the "bright spark" in her mother's eye was now dull.

"Our mum as she was has slowly drifted away," the daughter said.

In court Hannis said he deeply regretted his actions and said he was "mentally unwell" at the time.

"My actions were totally out of character and shock me."

He acknowledged what he did was wrong and apologised to the victim, his wife, rest home staff, friends, colleagues and students.

"I just want to forget everything"

A transcript of the victim's evidential interview with police shows her struggling to describe what happened, pausing often to declare, "oh God, it's terrible".

The woman called Hannis "a very forceful man", saying he "wouldn't stop".

"I just want to forget everything."

In her own interview, she said she was ashamed, which was why she didn't tell anyone about the assault for several days.

The victim has vascular dementia after suffering a stroke in 2014, and has limited mobility in one of her arms.

In a victim impact statement, the woman's daughter described how the "bright spark" in her mother's eye was now dull, and how "sadness enveloped her body" the first time she saw her after the assault.

"I held her while she sobbed time and time again."

The victim started having more falls, the most severe leaving her unable to move without a wheelchair.

"Our mum as she was has slowly drifted away," the daughter said.

"The accused made a choice, a choice to take advantage of a kind, caring, and vulnerable woman. Our mother has become part of the #MeToo movement."

In Hannis' evidential interviews, he initially denied any sexual contact with the victim.

When confronted with the sexual assault allegation and information that blood was found on the victim's underwear, he suggested "perhaps she's done it to herself".

He later confessed, saying the interaction was consensual and that the victim enjoyed it.

Hannis referred to himself and the victim as "private lovers" and talked about their "little secret".

"I wouldn't attack anybody, if she felt threatened I wish she had just said something ... I'll probably regret that for the rest of my life," he said.

"I was mentally unwell when I offended"

Hannis read out a statement in court, saying he deeply regretted his actions, and said the impact of them on himself had been profound.

He apologised to the victim and said what he did was wrong.

"Equally, I apologise to my victim's family. I am so sorry for the pain and hurt I caused you. You were entitled to assume your mum would be left in peace at the rest home. I undermined that."

He also apologised to his wife and the staff at the rest home, as well as his friends, colleagues and students.

"You will be horrified and appalled to learn of my actions," he said.

"I was mentally unwell when I offended. The pressures of overwork and looking after my mother had taken their toll. My actions were totally out of character and shock me."

He said he voluntarily sought counselling and medication after his arrest.

"The counselling I am receiving has helped me understand why I behaved as I did and to ensure I do not behave that way again.

"I never wish to cause such pain and distress to anyone ever again. I give everyone my absolute assurance: I will never reoffend."

Offending "unbelievable", Judge says

At a sentencing indication hearing last year, Judge Stephen Harrop said the offending was "unbelievable".

"It is difficult to understand and rationalise and it is really completely out of character."

Judge Harrop adopted a starting point for sentencing of two years and nine months in prison, allowing discounts for factors such as Hannis' guilty plea, remorse, his previous contribution to the community, and the decision to lift name suppression.

With those factors taken into account, Judge Harrop settled on a sentence of eight months' home detention and 100 hours' community work, and ordered him to pay $3000 emotional harm reparation.

Hannis, who was supported by his wife in court, sat in the dock with his eyes closed for most of the hearing, sometimes hunching his shoulders forward and rocking slightly.

His wife sat in the public gallery with her head down, at times putting her face in one hand.

Sentence shortened due to "penalty" of being named

Judge Harrop yesterday shortened Hannis' sentence to take into account the fact name suppression had been lifted.

"There ought to be a discount to recognise the effect of publication on you as a form of penalty," the judge said during today's sentencing.

He factored the discount in with other mitigating features, such as Hannis' previous good character, his contribution to the community, and his remorse.

University of Auckland law professor Bill Hodge said there was nothing in the Sentencing Act to suggest the lifting of name suppression should warrant a discount on sentence.

"There are various things the court must take account of," said Hodge, citing section 9 (2) of the act, which lists mitigating factors the judge should consider when settling on a sentence.

These include the offender's age, their remorse, their plea, and their involvement in the offending, among other things.

Being named in relation to a crime "in its own right would not be mitigating", Hodge said.

The principles of sentencing also did not list identifying an offender as a punishment, he said.

While the average person might consider being named to be humiliating and akin to punishment, that was a normal consequence of the court process.

"I don't think I've heard the phrase 'if we stop name suppression or if we allow publication I will take that as a further punishment and reduce the other punishments that I would have imposed.'

"Implicitly judges may think that. I haven't heard that expressed as if it's part of the legal mix."

- Additional reporting by Kirsty Johnston

Where to get help:

• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.
• Alternatively contact your local police station
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.