The lawyer for a youth involved in the so-called Roastbusters case admits some might see his client's conduct as morally wrong but says police were investigating whether a crime was committed.
The police announced today they would not be laying charges in relation to the west Auckland group of 17 and 18-year-old youths who called themselves "Roastbusters".
The police have been investigating the group for a year and have specifically looked at eight incidents involving seven victims and five suspects, although 30 young men were investigated.
Officer in Charge Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus said police would like to have charged the youths but had doubts over whether they would be found guilty.
They had also taken into account the wishes of victims, a lack of admissible evidence, the nature of the offences and the age of the victims, she said.
All up, 110 girls were spoken to, with five giving formal statements. However, a further 25 refused to give statements as they did not want to engage with police for fear of bullying and harassment by their peers, as well as the fear of being exposed in the media.
Ms Malthus said she still had concerns for those 25 girls.
The investigation had highlighted that there was a poor understanding from those they talked to about what consent was, and the role alcohol played in negating the ability to consent, she said.
The lawyer for one of the young men investigated, Ron Mansfield, told Checkpoint his client was relieved the investigation was finally over and he would not be charged.
Mr Mansfield said his client had always been adamant he had not committed any criminal offending.
"Others might form a view that conduct that he and others were involved in was, I suppose, morally or socially wrong but the issue here that the police were investigating was whether a crime had been committed or whether there was evidence of that."
Mr Mansfield said there had been online threats against his client.
Detective Superintendent Andy Lovelock said the decision to not take action was based on a range of factors, and he was confident all investigative avenues had been explored.
"There is no time limit on the disclosure of sexual offending by victims and, should any further disclosures be made by any of the girls spoken to, they will be assessed on a case-by-case basis and investigated appropriately," Mr Lovelock said.
Computers, smartphones, internet accounts and social media activity were all looked at during the investigation.
Assistant Police Commissioner Grant Nicholls said even if a teenage sex ring did not meet the threshold for criminal charges, there was a clear lack of respect and many disturbing factors about the case.
"When you add the social media, the alcohol, age and other factors, then you've got a cocktail which can be pretty unpleasant," he said.
"I think one of the fundamental questions is 'where was the respect?' As a society, where was the respect for these girls?"
Victims the primary concern
The police were criticised early on in the investigation for saying no victims had come forward when, in fact, one had.
An independent report on that initial handling of the case is expected shortly.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush said he understood the decision not to prosecute would promote a range of reactions but that the victims had been the primary concern throughout.
Rape Prevention Education director Kim McGregor said it was no surprise charges were not laid because only one in 100 cases of sexual assault ended in conviction.
However, she said online discussions about being intoxicated and giving consent could could only be a good thing.
"Young people hopefully are getting that message but it's come at a huge cost. We need to give young people information before they get into these situations," she said.
Police Minister Michael Woodhouse said he had been assured the police placed a high priority on their investigation into what was a complex case.
"The priority always has been for the welfare of the young women and their families," he said.
"While I understand that the decision may disappoint some (people), I think there are plenty of things that we can learn from this case, and I'll be working with police and those agencies to understand what those learnings are."
The Independent Police Conduct Authority's (IPCA) first report into the investigation, which was released earlier this year, found there was a systemic communication breakdown.
It found one detective knew a complaint had been laid but failed to clearly convey that to colleagues answering media questions.
IPCA chair Judge Sir David Carruthers said police did not deliberately mislead the media and no individual officer can be criticised, but the mistakes undermined public trust and confidence in the police.