Hunting-death sentences 'must be tougher'

ANDREW MEARS: Was illegally spotlighting when he fatally shot Rosemary Ives.
ANDREW MEARS: Was illegally spotlighting when he fatally shot Rosemary Ives.

A Hamilton hunter who killed Lower Hutt teacher Rosemary Ives after mistaking her for a deer supports a raft of tougher penalties recommended by a coroner.

Coroner Wallace Bain today called for law changes to make a charge of manslaughter applicable to hunter deaths. He also wanted others in a hunting party to bear similar responsibility, even if they didn't pull the trigger.

Ives, 25, was brushing her teeth when she was shot through the head by Andrew Neville David Mears, who was illegally spotlighting with three friends from a utility vehicle, on Labour Weekend in 2010.

ROSEMARY IVES: Shot dead while brushing her teeth at a campsite.
ROSEMARY IVES: Shot dead while brushing her teeth at a campsite.

In February last year, Mears was sentenced to two and half years in prison for manslaughter and ordered to pay $10,000 reparation. He has since been released.

Bain said the shooting was a "tragedy that should never have happened".

"Rosemary Ives' death was needless, it was violent, and it was homicide," he said.

In a statement released today - through his lawyer Roger Laybourn - Mears said he supported Dr Bain's recommendations.

He said he had always taken responsibility for his actions and always hoped that his case would be a lesson to other hunters.

However, he remained adamant that he would never again pick up a gun.

Ives' family, in a statement, said they "thoroughly" endorsed the coroner's recommendations.

"It is clearly evident that there are ongoing safety and legal issues surrounding firearms use that need to be addressed to prevent further tragedies."

Bain said despite Mears being charged with manslaughter, that wasn't always the case as some hunters walked away with the lesser charge of careless use of a firearm causing death.

"The time has come that the more appropriate charge should be manslaughter," he said.

He said a law reform was "well overdue" and "serious consideration" should be given to whether more serious charges were needed.

"That would send a very strong message to the hunting community, hunters would know that they would usually receive a lengthy term of imprisonment," Bain said.

"The issue of appropriate charges applicable for associates also has to be addressed."

Bain said laws should make it clear that people joint-hunting should have either the same culpability as the shooter or higher than in the Ives' case.

Mears' three friends - Kyle Dean, Ashley Wolland and Brad Bennett - pleaded guilty to breaching their hunting permits and were fined $2500 each.

Bain called for more education and messages to hunters in respect of their obligations under the Arms Code, and said people should look into whether spotlighting on any land to which the public has access, should be a specific offence.

Bain also recommended that the Department of Conservation (DOC) review the appropriateness of hunting permits with high powered rifles.

One the night of  the shooting Ives and partner Adam Hyndman were staying at DOC's Kaimanawa Forest Park in Turangi, near where Mears and his friends set up camp.

She had gone to the toilet area with a torch secured to her forehead. While nearby, two trampers told Mears and his group that there were deer up the road.

The group grabbed their firearms, got in the ute and began approaching Ives' campsite.

When someone in the ute saw a light emitting from the Doc campsite, they called out "deer" and Mears took aim at what he thought was one of the deer's eyes.

He fired the rifle and the bullet hit Ives in the head. She died at 10.54pm on October 22, 2010.

Mears and two friends had hunting permits, which prohibited hunting during dark and there was a DOC sign saying there camps in the vicinity.

Firearm Safety programme manager Michael Spray told the court that shooting in the area "even during the day, would be extremely dangerous and I would consider the risk to be too high".

He said that even in populated areas if hunters followed the seven basic rules of firearms safety in the Arms Code there should be no incidents and stressed shooters should assume any movement or sound is a human until proven differently.

David Limley, area manager for DOC based in Turangi, said since the death "no spotlighting at night" had been reinforced in the conditions on the new online permit.

The department has undertaken a total of 23 operations targeting illegal spotlighting in conservation areas since the incident, he said.