16 Oct 2023

Home detention for Dunedin man who neglected woman as she died of drug overdose

2:37 pm on 16 October 2023
68-year-old Carl Longshaw was sentenced to seven-and-a-half months home detention for the neglect of a vulnerable adult in the Dunedin High Court on 16 October 2023.

Carl Longshaw was sentenced at the Dunedin High Court on Monday. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

A Dunedin man has been sentenced to seven-and-a-half months home detention for the neglect of a former district judge's daughter who was unconscious for several hours before dying from a drug overdose.

Carl Longshaw, 68, did not call for medical assistance until hours after his on-off partner, 40-year-old Polly Riddell, became unresponsive - choosing to care for her instead.

His sentencing in Dunedin High Court on Monday marked the fifth anniversary of her death in 2018.

In a victim impact statement, her mother and former district court judge, Rosemary Riddell, said his failure haunted their family and she would have been alive today if not for his actions.

"All you had to do was pick up the phone and dial 111," she said.

"One day I would like to remember Polly simply with love and not grief."

It had been a long wait for justice when she should have been living happily in Ida Valley near her family in the new home she was building, Riddell said.

That included laying a complaint to police over a fake assault charge ladi by Longshaw after showing up unwelcome to her funeral and being told to leave.

In other victim impact statements, family members described a woman who lived with love, laughter, passion and purpose, had a zest for life, and brought joy and light to those around her.

They described an immense loss with catastrophic consequences. "Our family circle is broken and you are responsible," one statement said.

One uncle said he remembered holding her as a baby and now had the memory of lowering her coffin into the ground at her funeral.

Polly Riddell had been staying at Longshaw's Brighton home for a few days before her death.

The summary of facts said a family member described her mood as uncharacteristically flat during a phone call on 15 October, after which Longshaw watched her take her prescription medication.

He said he did not know she had also taken a range of non-prescription drugs including MDMA, methadone and morphine, but became suspicious and questioned what she had taken.

He took it upon himself to look after her - including clearing her airways, mistakenly believing she had pneumonia.

The summary of facts said it was an hour between his concerns first arising and calling an ambulance at 5.58pm on 16 October, telling them: "I think my partner is dead".

She was found dead at his home.

A toxicology report found various substances in her system but a pathologist said she might have survived if she had been given the correct medical treatment.

Justice Jonathan Eaton said Longshaw was originally charged with manslaughter, but pleaded guilty to neglect of a vulnerable adult which meant he did not definitively cause her death.

But there had been a major departure from the duty he owed Polly Riddell in assuming he had the ability to care for her, Eaton said.

"I have no doubt you have been grieving her loss, but your grief should not be conflated with remorse."

In her victim impact statement following Carl Longshaw's sentencing Polly Riddell's mother Rosemary Riddell says his failure to call 111 haunts their family.

Polly Riddell's mother Rosemary Riddell. Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

Speaking to media outside the courtroom, Rosemary Riddell said she expected the sentence as a retired judge.

"It was the law that was imposed. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was justice.

"Justice for a life, seven-and-a-half months home detention, I don't think so. But that's the law."

The healing did start but you never got over the loss of a child, you just learnt to live differently, she said.

It had been particularly hard that her husband and Polly's father, Mike Riddell, had died before he could see Longshaw receive any justice, but he was in the courtroom in spirit, she said.