21 Dec 2018

Reduced jail time for Kaitaia man who preyed on backpackers

3:15 pm on 21 December 2018

A Kaitaia hostel manager who drugged and indecently assaulted backpackers has successfully appealed his sentence.

Michael Harris

The prison sentence for Kaitaia hostel manager Michael Harris has been reduced. Photo: Facebook

Michael Harris was jailed for eight years in 2017 after preying on young men staying at a backpackers hostel he managed, but that sentence has now been reduced to five years and four months.

Over a two years period, he drugged, indecently assaulted and filmed hostel guests, most of whom were international travellers.

He pleaded guilty to 42 charges relating to 18 victims, including indecent assault, disabling by stupefaction and making an intimate visual recording.

Earlier this year, he appealed his sentence in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Wayne McKean, argued the starting point of nine years' imprisonment was two years greater than the maximum penalty for indecent assault and "out of step" with other sentences for low level but extensive sexual offending.

Mr McKean said the sentencing judge gave insufficient recognition for Harris' guilty plea, remorse and the time he spent on restrictive bail conditions.

Some of Harris' offending occurred when he ran Main Street Lodge between 2012 and 2014.

Young men were given a drink that made them tired and woke up during the night to find Harris pressed up behind them in a "spooning" fashion.

Some recalled Harris telling them he loved them and possible camera lights flashing, while others couldn't recall any offending.

Harris indecently assaulted a number of other young men, the youngest 15-years-old, in different settings dating back to 2005.

The court considered the most serious offending was that against a young teenager that had required premeditation and misuse of prescription medication.

The court adopted a starting point of four years' imprisonment for the charges relating to the youngest victim, and increased this by three years to reflect offending against the other complainants.

The seven year starting point was then discounted by three months for Harris' property forfeiture, guilty plea and remorse, making a final sentence of five years and four months' imprisonment.