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Former gang member jailed

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 06/02/2014

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A former gang member has been jailed for five and a half years after a vicious attack on a Riverhead woman who thought he was her father.

Peter Vitali, 59, was sentenced in the High Court at Auckland on Tuesday after previously pleading guilty to a charge of injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.

The victim of the attack was Skye Mason, who made headlines two months later when she kidnapped 18-month-old Alyssa Barker from a Kaukapakapa address in July 2012.

The toddler's two-day disappearance sparked a manhunt and Alyssa was returned to her family after a Swanson woman with whom Ms Mason sought refuge called police.

Skye Mason was in the public gallery to see Vitali sentenced.

Mason thought Vitali was her father - though Justice Brendan Brown described them as being "de-facto partners" - saying she eventually moved in with him.

But the relationship soon soured.

The pair argued over cigarettes and Mason fled when tempers flared in May 2012.

Vitali "hunted her down" and began punching and kicking her in the head and ribs.

He then put a belt around Mason's neck and dragged her across the gravel to his unit, twisting the noose so hard it broke her jaw and her teeth sliced the inside of her mouth.

Vitali eventually released Mason and told her to wash her face in a chilli bin full of water, but as she tried to recover, he forced her head into the water.

Mason says she thought she was going to drown.

She eventually escaped her attacker and hid under a truck where she was later found by a worker who persuaded her to go to hospital.

Crown prosecutor Josh Shaw read Mason's victim impact statement to the court, in which she blamed her subsequent high-profile offending on a psychological breakdown caused by Vitali.

She spent a year in the Mason Clinic psychiatric facility as a result and said she felt "deeply betrayed" by Vitali.

"It breaks my heart to be treated this way by someone I love so much," she says. "It'll take me a long time to trust anyone again."

While they lived together, Vitali taught her how to weld and Mason says she just wanted to make him proud but the harmony never lasted.

"He'd constantly put me down, saying I'm useless and I'm nothing," she says.

The pair attended a restorative justice conference but Shaw says Vitali had used it as an opportunity to minimise his offending.

Vitali claimed to have cut his gang ties, but Justice Brown says there were still ongoing disputes with various organised criminal groups.

The judge commented on Vitali's criminal history, that dated back to 1971 and encompassed 42 charges, and imposed a minimum non-parole period of three and a half years.

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- Norwest News

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