Greenstone thieves sent to prison

01:43, Jan 31 2009
WALKING TO JAIL: David Saxton, front, and his son, Morgan, head for the Christchurch District Court for sentencing. The pair were found guilty of stealing pounamu and have each been sentenced to more than two years in prison.

A father and son found guilty of stealing pounamu have each been sentenced to more than two years in prison and will have to pay $300,000.

Family members broke down in tears in court as David Anthony Saxton, 62, and Morgan David Saxton, 30, were sentenced to two years nine months and two years six months respectively.

More than 50 people were at the Christchurch District Court to witness the conclusion of the case, which began in May.

The pair were found guilty in October of stealing the precious greenstone from the Cascade Plateau in South Westland between October 1997 and September 2003.

The Crown argued the pounamu was the property of Ngai Tahu and its theft had caused the tribe considerable spiritual offence as well as economic loss.

In handing down his sentence, Judge Gary MacAskill said the men's actions had split the community in the area, as some supported the Saxtons while others condemned them.

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"It's apparent that your actions have caused irreparable damage," he said. "It is clear that your offending has adverse economic and cultural consequences."

The Saxtons stood impassively as judgment was passed. A number of supporters leaned into the dock and shook their hands as they left.

Much of yesterday's proceedings was taken up with discussion about reparations.

Crown prosecutor Robin Bates said $680,000 worth of pounamu had been extracted and sold by the pair -- both pilots for a commercial helicopter business in Haast.

A further $198,000 had been recovered from the pair, who illegally mined and sold the resource, using their helicopter to transport it.

However, defence counsel Colin Withnall, QC, said reparations should not be based on proceeds from the operation.

"The loss or damage to Ngai Tahu ... was not the net sale proceeds because this is not what they could have acquired if it had not been stolen," he said.

Withnall suggested a more "realistic" figure for reparations was $240,000.

He drew attention to the men's previous good characters.

They had saved lives as part of the work they did with search and rescue in the area and were highly regarded.

"It's an aberration that they are before the court on this matter. It's really quite inexplicable that they should be here at all."

Morgan Saxton was less culpable than his father as he had been brought up taking part in the mining activities and was a "follower not an initiator".

Withnall also said that at a restorative justice hearing last week the pair had apologised and offered to give information to Ngai Tahu about the location and extraction of pounamu.

He argued Ngai Tahu would profit from having 400kg to 690kg of thegreenstone which was recovered from the pair returned to them.

After some deliberation the two sides agreed to settle on $300,000.

Earlier Bates had said the offences had been aggravated by the length of time the pair carried out the operation, the premeditation involved and the lack of remorse they had shown.

Ngai Tahu chairman Mark Solomon said he was happy with the sentence.

"I think justice has been done," he said.

"We take no pleasure in the sentences, but we believe they send a clear message to people that the theft of pounamu from Ngai Tahu will result in prosecution supported by the full weight of the law."

The Press