28 Feb 2024

Six months' supervision for youths who attacked gay men

7:54 pm on 28 February 2024

By Sinead Gill, The Press

Christchurch Court building

Photo: RNZ / Nate McKinnon

Warning: This story contains details of abuse.

Five Christchurch teenagers involved in a string of "highly premeditated and extremely violent" attacks on gay men have been sentenced to six months' supervision and ordered to pay reparations.

The result is little surprise to victims, who told The Press they believed the youth justice system was ill-equipped to deal with challenging cases.

The decision made by Judge Quentin Hix at the Christchurch Youth Court on Wednesday was the result of several months of navigating the complexity of the case and the needs of the perpetrators, aged 14 to 16 at the time of the attacks. Judge Hix was the third judge to oversee the case since July.

Prosecutor Penny Brown told the court she wanted three of the attackers transferred to the district court, as police were concerned the youth court could not provide adequate psychological assessment and rehabilitation.

She said the case was "very rare", in that the 10 assaults before the court on Wednesday were "highly premeditated and extremely violent".

They were filmed, and in one video an attacker could be heard telling a victim beaten to unconsciousness, "yeah, go to f...ing sleep", she said.

Kelly Hopkins - single use only

Kelly Hopkins doesn't think justice was fully served, but blames the youth justice system for being ill equipped for such a complex case. Photo: Stuff / Chris Skelton

However, the defence lawyers and Judge Hix disagreed, saying if the teenagers ended up in district court, they almost certainly faced prison time - a minimum of 10 years, not including discounts for age and cooperation.

Judge Hix believed jail could worsen any violent tendencies, and the five young men had shown a willingness to be better.

The court heard how one attacker could have remained unidentified, but turned himself in out of remorse. Another had got a part-time job and started saving money towards reparations for the victims. Neither of those teens was being considered for district court, but had their sentences downgraded from formal supervision to informal.

Judge Hix did not think the attacks were motivated by hatred of the victims' sexuality, but said the teens may have been radicalised by violent videos they were watching on social media.

He referred to evidence where attackers referred to victims as "pedos", and believed they may have been inspired to copy 'To Catch a Predator' vigilante-style content.

However, their victims do not accept that homophobia was not a motivation.

One victim who attended Wednesday's sentencing said he wanted to walk out at the judge's comment. Another, Kelly Hopkins, who did not attend sentencing but spoke to The Press afterwards, said: "Then why didn't they use Tinder and pretend to be an 11-year old-girl? They chose gay men ... they were the predators."

The five teenagers each received six months of supervision, which came with community service and a psychological assessment.

They have to pay each of their identified victims $500 in emotional reparation, but one victim who suffered significant financial loss will get $2000 from each attacker.

The two victims who attended sentencing told the court how the attacks continued to traumatise them.

One said he used to be reluctant to come out as gay for fear of rejection. Now, he hid his sexuality for fear of being beaten, and struggled to feel safe even putting out rubbish bins.

He still had flashbacks of the beating, which was filmed and involved continuous kicks to the face, a drink being poured on his head and his pants being pulled down to expose his genitals.

Another victim said the attack cost him financially, forcing him to go to food banks as his phone and cards were stolen and he couldn't get support from family in China.

He said the attacks also cost him his faith in New Zealand as a safe and welcoming place.

Judge Hix acknowledged their strength and courage, saying it brought their victim impact statements to life.

Hopkins said he understood why his attackers received the sentence they did, but he did not think justice was served.

He said it seemed like the judge's only options were "two extremes" of six months' supervision or several years in jail, and it showed how inadequate youth court was for handling complex cases.

"I'm glad I couldn't go. I couldn't have standed looking at their faces when they got these sweet sentences."

According to charging documents seen by The Press, several more youths were involved in the attacks who didn't face charges on Wednesday as they were either unidentified, referred to Youth Aid, or charges were withdrawn. One is being dealt with in a separate hearing.

In a statement, Detective Senior Sergeant Damon Wells thanked the victims for their bravery.

"The victims have done nothing wrong. The offenders made a choice to take advantage of people's trust and planned these attacks with the intention of hurting people," he said.

- This story was first published by The Press.

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