Jury deliberates in retrial of former teacher accused of abuse

12:59 pm on 10 August 2020

The jury has retired to deliberate in the trial of a former Auckland school teacher accused of abusing six teenage boys.

Benjamin Swann in the High Court at Auckland on Monday 3 August 2020

Benjamin Swann, 56, has been on trial in the High Court at Auckland. Photo: RNZ

Benjamin Swann, 56, has been on trial in the High Court at Auckland after pleading not guilty to 10 charges of doing an indecent act on a young person.

He categorically denies abusing six teenage boys who have each given evidence against during his retrial over the past week.

A jury of six women and six men has now retired to deliberate its verdicts after trial judge Justice Moore summed up the case this morning.

The former teacher is accused of touching the genitals of each of the boys; sometimes alone, sometimes in the presence of others and sometimes behind locked doors.

Prosecutor Chris Howard told the jury the stories told by each of the boys are too similar to be made up while the defence has argued the boys are lying and questioned the truthfulness and accuracy of their accounts.

Summing up the case this morning, Justice Moore told the jury it had to set aside any sympathy or prejudice for either side in the case.

He said while it was natural to have strong feelings about crimes against young people, there was no room for these feelings in their deliberations.

The judge said it was the Crown's case there were similarities in the boys' accounts, which are suppressed by the court, that showed Swann had a propensity to offend in a particular way.

"What the Crown says here is get real; use your common sense. What are the chances of six boys independently making very similar sexual allegations about the same man?" Justice Moore said.

"None of the boys was challenged by the defence that he colluded; that he got together with another or others and agreed to make up a false story about what Mr Swann had done to them," the judge said.

"If that was being alleged then the defence was required to put that directly to the boys to give them the opportunity to say if it happened or didn't happen. No such challenge was made."

Addressing the defence, Justice Moore said it had asked that the jury not be overwhelmed by the fact that six boys had made allegations against one man.

"[The defence] says that if you actually analyse the evidence logically and forensically in the way he suggests, if you actually consider the individual inconsistencies in each of the boys' accounts, you get nowhere near proof beyond reasonable doubt. All you're left with, he says, are allegations and suspicion.

"It's not your job to try and fill in the holes in the Crown's case. Your job is to look at the evidence in front of you and ask, complainant by complainant, whether the proof has reached the high standard of beyond reason doubt."

Justice Moore added expert evidence had canvassed why people and children may react to sexual offending in different ways, including delayed reporting, continued contact with an offender and having mixed feelings.

"The evidence does not prove or disprove that sexual offending has occurred in this case. The expert has not interviewed any of the complainants and they have not reviewed the evidence.

"The purpose of this evidence is to inform you about the range of behaviours that may be found among sex complainants."

Justice Moore told the jury it was not up to them to consider each of the 10 charges and come to an agreement on their verdicts.

"What you bring is your experience and knowledge of human nature. You also bring common sense to the task. These are very important qualities. They are tools and you don't shed your common sense like an overcoat when you walk into the courtroom to perform your duties as a juror.

"That is the great strength of our jury system. It operates on the basis that you each come from a different background; different ages, different sexes and different ethnicities. You've had different life experiences and you pool all of those qualities together when you perform your task as a jury."