Verdict but no closure for family

Last updated 05:00 19/12/2012
Sue and Heath Hollows
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

Sue Hollows and husband Heath think the jury missed the truth about the death of her brother Phil Cottrell.

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Having police at your door is never good news, but Sue Hollows used to think they travelled in pairs for death knocks.

So she was not unduly worried when just one officer came to her Te Anau home on December 10 last year.

Her brother, Phil Cottrell, a journalist in Wellington, was due on a long-awaited visit two days later. The police officer said Phil had been assaulted, but the details were not clear and she had to call a doctor in Wellington to learn more.

She could not take in what the doctor told her. Even as he was saying that her brother was not going to survive severe head injuries, Mrs Hollows was thinking, "Is he still going to be all right to come down to see me on Monday?"

Then she had to make the call to their frail, elderly parents in England, with her mother repeating the news to her father, who cannot hear over the telephone. Her mother did not repeat the final words: "He's not going to make it."

So began the year that ended in the High Court at Wellington on Monday with one man convicted of manslaughter and another walking free from a charge of having murdered her brother.

On Monday evening, Mrs Hollows wrote her victim impact statement, but for the moment she sees no point in returning in February for the sentencing of Nicho Allan Waipuka, 20.

Phil Cottrell, 43, had travelled the world without coming to harm. With 73 countries under his belt, he was well on the way to hitting his target of seeing 100 countries by his 50th birthday.

"He went to Afghanistan the week after 9/11," Mrs Hollows, 41, said. "I was saying, ‘Please don't go, think what you are doing.'"

Monday's verdicts stunned her and husband Heath.

"All along we had complete faith in the jury," she said.

They could only think jurors were caught up in the legal fine print and their commonsense deserted them.

"They had a prime opportunity to set a standard and get people with this attitude off the street," Mr Hollows said.

But the couple do not think the jurors should be blamed.

They believe the jury may also have been distracted by the inherited bone condition osteogenesis imperfecta, which runs in the Cottrell family.

It was described in court as "brittle bone" disease, but Mrs Hollows says they actually had bones that were denser than usual, but broke differently to other people's.

She feels it her brother's skull fracture, crunched spine and splintered arm were not the result of falling after a single punch, as the jury seems to have accepted.

Having heard the evidence, she at least knows now what happened. Even though small things still niggle, the big picture is clear - and it brings no sense of closure.

She has begun a project for her brother's friends, colleagues and family to complete the list of 100 countries he wanted to visit, and record them on a Facebook page.

Five torches like the one he wore on his belt have been attached to dog-tags with his details, and will be photographed in each of the countries. She hopes all the travellers will be able to meet in the 100th country.

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Phil Cottrell blogged about his travels, and she would like to see it published.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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