Seal 'slaughter' earns prison term
A judge has taken the unusual step of sending a first-time offender to jail for what he says was an "unprecedented" attack on 23 seals.
Judge Ian Mill yesterday sent 20-year-old Renwick man Jason Trevor Godsiff to jail for two years for wilfully ill-treating 23 seals by clubbing them to death with a pipe near Kaikoura on November 26.
The attack was an "unprecedented" act which had not been seen since the seals became a protected species in 1978, the judge said when he sentenced Godsiff in the Blenheim District Court.
Family and friends packed the gallery for the sentencing and some were crying when Godsiff was sent to jail.
Jamaal Peter Roy Large, 36, from the Wairau Valley, faces the same charges as Godsiff. He denies the charges and has elected trial.
Godsiff and the co-accused had been working as builders in Waiau, North Canterbury, and were driving toward Blenheim on November 26 when they stopped at Ohau Point. It was dark and they wore headlamps and armed themselves with galvanised pipes, Judge Mill said.
They walked on to the beach and attacked the seals with the pipes. Some of the seals were only pups.
Department of Conservation workers found injured seals days after the attack, including some pups that might have starved because their mothers had been killed, he said.
Crown prosecutor Mark O'Donoghue withdrew a charge of possession of a galvanised pipe as an offensive weapon.
The killings were premeditated because the pair had gone out of their way to attack the seals, he said.
"They made a deliberate detour to slaughter the seals, arming themselves with the means to kill the animals in sheer Kubrickian savagery – by that I mean gratuitous, mindless savagery," he said.
"This was not just one protected animal, not just a few, there were 25."
Mr O'Donoghue said a letter from a Kaikoura iwi showed the seals were a tourist attraction with benefits for the whole community.
Defence counsel Gary Sawyer said Godsiff was 19 at the time of the attack and an apprentice builder working with Large.
The pre-sentence report writer believed Godsiff looked up to Large and a psychological report suggested Godsiff was vulnerable to forming views based on others rather than forming his own, Mr Sawyer said.
The killing was "more spur of the moment than premeditated" because the pair already had headlamps for work and the pipes were off-cuts "which happened to be in the ute".
Godsiff did not set out to harm the seals in a way that would cause suffering, but aimed to reduce seal numbers.
"It was an exercise in culling numbers rather than an exercise to cause pain and distress."
They hit the seals on the head to make their death as quick as possible, he said.
Godsiff had co-operated with police when they questioned him about six months after the killings and immediately admitted the charges. The attack was out of character, he was not a risk to the community and was "unlikely" to offend again, Mr Sawyer said.
"He's someone who made a bad decision and must now suffer the consequences."
Judge Mill said it was surprising Godsiff had no previous convictions, although people who knew him were surprised he would be able to kill the seals.
Godsiff had told the probation officer he did not believe the seals were protected and thought they were pests and could get rid of a few because there were plenty more, the judge said.
"These were vulnerable victims who were no match for you at night and on land."
While it may have been his intention to kill them as quickly as possible, some were left alive.
"How do you know those seals didn't suffer?"
Previous sentences for animal cruelty submitted by defence and prosecuting lawyers could not be compared with Godsiff's case because of the "sheer scale" of the attack, he said. The maximum possible sentence was five years.
He took into account Godsiff's age, guilty plea, lack of convictions and previous good character in sentencing.
However, he did not believe Godsiff was genuinely remorseful.
The Marlborough Express