A prominent New Zealander has been cleared of sex charges against two girls.
After deliberation, the jury in the High Court at Whangarei returned not guilty verdicts on all 12 charges of doing an indecent act.
Members of the man's family cried as the not guilty verdicts flooded in.
Several supporters clapped and celebrated as the final acquittal was read out by the foreperson.
Defence counsel Arthur Fairley said he would be seeking permanent name suppression for his client.
Defence lawyer Peter Magee said there was very little material to add on the issue of suppression to what was already before the court.
He said there was still a risk of identifying the complainants if the defendant was named.
Justice Venning reserved his decision, which he expected to release later today.
The trial, which started last week, saw the Crown label the alleged acts as "sneaky", often carried out when there were other people and regularly around under the guise of massages.
The two teenagers gave evidence of the touching, which they said featured inappropriate groping of their breasts, buttocks and upper thighs.
One said she feared he would rape her.
But the well-known defendant staunchly denied any sexual misconduct - when he was first informed by police, when he later gave a voluntary interview and finally in the witness box.
The man admitted he had given the older girl massages on several occasions but his hands had never been any higher than her knee when he did so.
In respect of the younger complainant he said there had been only fleeting contact in a similar vein.
Defence counsel Arthur Fairley told the jury the teens' inconsistent stories had come back to haunt them under his cross-examination.
"To be a good liar you've got to have a good memory; and more than that, when you're telling your lie you've got to be able to carry on and say, like chess, 'how is this going to be deconstructed further down the track?'" he said.
"What you've seen here spectacularly is not a matter of performance, it's where stories have unravelled."
Defence witnesses told the court of interactions they had seen between the defendant and both of the complainants during the period of the alleged abuse.
All said they had seen nothing untoward and had been there when one of the girls had requested massages.
She had earlier told the court the man forced her into the allegedly compromising situations.
Mr Fairley said the contradiction was imperative in casting doubt on the Crown case, and the jury agreed.
"The significance of that evidence is that it shows you the pattern. It wasn't a case of [the defendant] imposing his will on her and forcing her," he said.
"This is a critical clash of credibility. It can't be sidestepped."
Mr Fairley suggested to the jury the younger girl had come forward with the sexual allegations only after a huge argument with the accused and the other complainant had been drawn into backing her up when the two colluded later on.
She asked for breaks while giving her evidence, he said, when the "fundamental flaws" in her evidence were highlighted.
What is suppressed?
The defendant's "name, address and identifying particulars" cannot be published. There has also been no publication of his age or occupation for fear of breaching the court's order.
The suppression similarly covers the two complainants in the case.
The location of the alleged offending has also been ruled off limits because it may give the identity of the parties away.
As a result of the sweeping suppression orders the names of all the witnesses in the case - barring police officers - have had to be withheld, because naming them would identify one or all of those involved.
Why is there suppression?
A defendant's name can only be suppressed after their first appearance in court if a judge is satisfied publication would cause "extreme hardship" to the defendant or persons connected to them.
"The fact that a defendant is well known does not, of itself, mean that publication of his or her name will result in extreme hardship," according to the Criminal Procedure Act.
After an appeal hearing in the High Court, Justice Raynor Asher ruled that that was the case and granted suppression until the start of the trial last week.
Before the trial started Justice Geoffrey Venning extended that order until the hearing's conclusion.
Complainants in sex cases and complainants under the age of 18 are given automatic statutory suppression.
How long will suppression last?
The defendant only has interim name suppression, which means that the court may eventually choose to lift it. In the event he is acquitted of all charges it is likely the order will be made permanent to protect his reputation.
The complainants' details are suppressed permanently. This order may only be lifted if the complainants reach the age of 18 and apply to the court to do so. In that eventuality, the court must be satisfied a complainant "understands the nature and effect of his or her decision".
If the defendant is granted permanent suppression the girls will likely never be able to have their names published because it may identify him.
What was said during prominent Kiwi's trial
COMPLAINANT #1 (Suppressed)
"I asked for a back massage and then he started rubbing down by my bum and I felt like scared because I didn't ask him to rub down there."
"We didn't actually know it was this serious. We didn't know it was going to end up like this."
COMPLAINANT #2 (Suppressed)
"I'm uncomfortable when he does it but sometimes he forces me into getting a foot massage."
"He'll give me a massage on my shoulders ... then he'll rub down here, close to my boobs and that"
"He does it sneaky so [no one] notices what he's doing,"
In police interview:
"I didn't just spring out of nowhere and say 'do you want a shoulder rub?'"
"We're not talking a sensual massage."
"All I can tell you is what I've done and haven't done. It's very hard. There may have been contact on the leg. That contact may have happened. Have I deliberately made inappropriate contact? I'm saying categorically 'no'."
In the witness box:
"I am who I am, but regardless of that I didn't do these things ... plain and simple."
"I'm saying I haven't done these things ... I don't think I can be more clear about that. If that means what [the girls are] saying is lies then they're lies."
"What they're saying is not just wrong ... it's lies. They have their reasons for it, I'm sure."
"I may have stood behind her, beside her ... have I pressed up against her like she said? Absolutely not."
SOCIAL WORKER (First person to interview the girls)
"They wanted it to stop and they wanted to be believed and their fear was nobody would believe them."
"They believed [he] was an important person and had a lot of credibility."
ARTHUR FAIRLEY (Defence lawyer)
"What he is saying is that at no stage was there ever indecent contact with either complainant. And that's the nub of it. They say 'yes', he says 'no'."
"[The defendant] was a good witness because he had only one advantage: the advantage of telling the truth."
"There's no halfway house here. We've got two human beings saying in one form or another that [the defendant] touched us; we've got the other saying 'I did not'."
"To be a good liar you've got to have a good memory; and more than that, when you're telling your lie you've got to be able to carry on and say, like chess, 'how is this going to be deconstructed further down the track?' What you've seen here spectacularly is not a matter of performance, it's where stories have unravelled."
BRIAN DICKEY (Crown prosecutor)
"We really come to the position in this particular case where there's fundamentally a single substantive issue in respect of each count - that's whether either or both of these girls have concocted the story that gives rise to these charges."
"It's no concoction, no conspiracy. The defendant took the opportunity from time to time when it presented itself to touch those girls indecently, inappropriately, in bad ways."
"The touching was surreptitious, sneaky, sometimes to the point of almost being in plain view."
"It's confusing, at least to a child ... the touching is bad and inappropriate instead of gross acts of indecency. That's how he was able to get away with it for as long as he did."
"If you were going to lie about these events, wouldn't you make it much worse? These are fleeting inappropriate touches, absolutely indecent ... but a teenage girl could dream up much worse than this. Why not make it a more believable lie? Why complicate the story by saying people were present? Why create potential witnesses? It's nuts."
"He brings a big presence and it must be hard for the girls to deal with and explain it; and it was."
Charges against Prominent New Zealander
CHARGES RELATING TO THE YOUNGER COMPLAINANT
COUNT 1. The man moved his chair close to her and put his hand on her inner thigh.
DEFENCE - He denies it ever happened and said it could not have taken place due to alleged timing.
2 & 3. During a massage he put his hands over her shoulders and down to her breasts. He also partially pulled her pants down and touched her buttocks.
D - He denies he ever massaged her in such a way.
4. He approached her and indecently touched her as she lay down playing on a tablet.
D - He denies it ever happened. Evidence also showed the girl did not have a tablet at the time.
5. He sat next to her on the couch and rubbed her close to her vagina.
D - He denies it ever happened and said the only massage he gave her was on her neck.
6 & 7. The so-called "starfish incident": while the girl lay on the floor he touched her breasts and buttocks.
D - He denies it ever happened and said no massages took place in private.
8. He approached the girl from behind and pressed his groin into her back.
D - He denies it ever happened.
9. He touched her buttocks during a massage.
D - He denies it ever happened.
CHARGES RELATING TO OLDER COMPLAINANT
10. A foot massage led to him moving his hand up the inside of her thigh after rolling her pants up.
D - He says the only massages he gave on her legs were on her feet and calves.
11. He deliberately placed her foot against his penis during foot rubs.
D - He said the massages happened with others present and there was always a towel over his lap.
12. He approached her from behind and pressed his groin against her back.
D - He may have grabbed something from over her shoulder but never forced himself against her.