28 Nov 2019

Young Labour summer camp assaulter discharged without conviction

2:00 pm on 28 November 2019

A man who assaulted two teenage boys at a Young Labour summer camp has been discharged without conviction.

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Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The 21-year-old put his hand down two boys' pants and grabbed their genitals during a party at the camp near Waihi in February last year.

Judge Russell Collins refused to grant the man permanent name suppression at the Auckland District Court this morning, but his identity will remain a secret for now as his lawyer Emma Priest indicated she would challenge that decision.

The man stood trial in September after pleading not guilty to five charges of indecent assault in relation to four teenagers - two girls and two boys.

In a surprise move, he pleaded guilty to two amended summary charges of common assault in relation to the two boys on the third day of his trial.

One of the victims was at sentencing this morning and was addressed by Judge Collins. He described the two victims as impressive and said they had shown considerable courage.

"Sadly, this has had a real impact on them. None of that was of their making, but sadly much of the impact on them clearly comes about as what happened after this night."

Judge Collins said the gravity of the young man's offending was low and wasn't for any sexual gratification.

This view would likely shock many people; he told the court.

"Yes, it was highly offensive and would have been particularly so to the two victims, however it was born out of drunken stupidity. That doesn't excuse it, and as a matter of law his drunkenness isn't a mitigating factor."

Judge Collins said apart from the night of the offending, the young man was impressive and had succeeded well in life.

"I have the obvious sympathy for him in the position that he found himself on account of his own drunken stupidity."

The young man should treat his sentencing as a challenge to use his talents to "positively contribute to society", Judge Collins said.

The Judge discharged the young man without conviction.

Name suppression

The man's name has remained a secret since his arrest last year.

This morning, his lawyer Emma Priest said if he was named it would follow him in the media forever and he would face a lifetime of internet searches.

She referred to the extreme media coverage of the case.

"The media has been extensive, it's ongoing, as evident in court today ... this doesn't fall into the category of offending where media will simply die away.

"The highly political nature of the prosecution ... will mean that this case will continue to be linked to other political news."

Ms Priest said the man's family do not know about the offending and if they found out, it would likely fracture his relationship with them.

But Judge Collins refused to grant the 21-year-old permanent name suppression.

"I am not satisfied that this young man will be burdened or blighted for the rest of his life as the person who was involved in the allegations at this youth camp."

Interim name suppression for the man continues as Ms Priest immediately indicated she would challenge that decision.

The camp

About 50 young people attended the camp, run by the youth wing of the Labour Party in Karangahake Gorge in February last year.

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, as well as then-Labour Party general secretary Andrew Kirton, spoke at the opening of the event on 9 February.

The camp was running through the weekend and on the night of Saturday 10 February, a group of attendees got drunk after a quiz.

"It was evident that a lot of alcohol was consumed," Judge Collins said.

After the quiz, people started to dance to music.

"At some point, [the defendant] was walking past one of the victims and as he did so he put his hand down that victim's pants, inside his underwear grabbing his penis and testicles for around a second."

Judge Collins said the victim, who was 18 at the time, pulled away in shock and exclaimed "he just grabbed my dick".

Later in the night, about midnight, a group including the second victim gathered to take a group photo in front of a sign displaying the Labour Party's campaign slogan - "Let's do this".

It was then, Judge Collins said, the man had put his hand out and put it down the second victim's pants on top of his underwear.

"The victim pushed [the defendant's] hand away. A short time later [the defendant] again reached out and put his hand inside the front of the victim's pants towards his genital but not so far as in to reach his genitals."

The victim, who was 16 at the time, again pushed the man way, Judge Collins told the court.

Before going to bed, the man apologized to the second victim for touching him and apologised to the first victim the next day, Judge Collins said.

The Labour Party's independent review

In March last year, the Labour Party announced lawyer Maria Austen would review how it handled the teenager's complaints.

Ms Austen looked at the party's policies and procedures both for managing events and handling complaints.

She considered if they were followed correctly at the camp in February and whether they're adequate to provide a safe environment.

The report was handed to the party's former president Nigel Haworth five months later.

Ms Austen recommended developing a more effective relationship between Young Labour and the Labour Party and reviewing the party's code of conduct and its policies on alcohol, sexual harassment, bullying and its complaints procedure.

In August, Mr Haworth said the party had committed to putting in place all the recommendations and had established a process for that work to be completed.

The report has not yet been released publicly.

The recommendations:

  • Develop a more tangible and effective relationship between Young Labour and the Labour Party
  • Review and/or develop policies on the party's code of conduct - along with consideration as to whether that should apply to the Young Labour Party, or whether a modified or separate code should be developed
  • Review and/or develop policies on sexual harassment and sexual assault, alcohol, events and host responsibility, bullying and complaint procedure
  • Incorporate updated event registration and parental consent and risk disclosure information requirements and forms to ensure compliance with current best practice and all legislation relating to the care of minors when participating in party held events
  • Ensure at least one Labour Party representative should also attend the entire event and be available throughout (solely or jointly with another nominated adult supervisor) to ensure compliance with safety and welfare expectations and the Young Labour Party should also nominate a welfare officer to attend all events
  • Introduce a new, over-arching alcohol policy, formulated in consultation with expert external advice
  • Introduce a new open complaints process to enable complaints to be received and responded to without delay and with the appropriate degree of specialist advice