'Good lad' behind attack gets sentence cut

A 16-year-old's sentence for hitting another teenager in the face with a bottle has been reduced, with a judge saying he "appears basically to be a good lad".

The High Court ruling by Justice Stephen Kos, released this week, has infuriated the victim's stepfather, who says the boy lost three teeth in the assault. Two more teeth have since died and had to be pulled out.

He said his stepson, 15, was a "bit of a computer geek", who had been at a friend's for a sleepover and was returning from buying a drink at a service station.

"This was a vicious, unprovoked attack."

The 16-year-old was originally sentenced by Youth Court Judge Peter Callinicos in September to three months in a youth facility, after he admitted injuring with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, assault and stealing.

"Judge Callinicos had it right," the stepfather said. "This kid had to learn his behaviour wasn't acceptable."

However, the attacker appealed to the High Court, and Justice Kos ruled the sentence was too harsh.

He described the youth as "not a rocket scientist, in his counsel's words, well-behaved. Very good at sport and art. But one night he made an appalling mistake".

The attacker's lawyer, Derek Quilliam, said the result was fair. "I don't think he should have been in there in the first place, and the judge agreed."

The youth had excellent prospects, Mr Quilliam said. "I think he's a great bloke. He has the world as his feet if he wishes it to be."

The attack happened at 1am on August 12. The youth was drinking in Napier when he was approached by four teens who attended the same school.

Without warning, he smashed an empty bottle in the 15-year-old's mouth, breaking three teeth. He then kicked him before kicking and punching another 15-year-old in the group and stealing his cap.

The first victim's teeth were broken in half and could not be saved. He was in considerable pain and now has false teeth and faces years of costly medical bills.

Judge Callinicos said the offending was serious and gratuitous and he found it "bewildering" that Child, Youth and Family would recommend that the youth attend various programmes, complete 200 hours' community work and undertake "an art project portraying an anti-violence message to be donated to a community organisation".

He said the recommendation was "manifestly inadequate". Police agreed.

But in a High Court appeal on October 26, lawyer John McDowell, acting on instructions for Mr Quilliam, said Judge Callinicos' desire to accommodate the victim and his mother had overridden other considerations.

The youth was remorseful and depressed about what had happened, and Mr McDowell said Judge Callinicos had too readily dismissed the possibility that the victim had provoked him.

Justice Kos said Judge Callinicos was an experienced judge, but he felt it best if the youth served a community-based sentence.

"The appellant is 16 years old. He appears basically to be a good lad . . . We are not dealing with a committed young thug. The most important thing is to make sure he does not become one."

He set aside the residential sentence, but the youth is required to complete the rest of his sentence. He had served about seven weeks in the Auckland youth facility by the time he was freed.

Contact Marty Sharpe
Hawke's Bay reporter
Email: marty.sharpe@dompost.co.nz

The Dominion Post