The tragic shooting of a Rotorua hunter by his friend could have been avoided if recommendations from previous hunting accidents had been adopted, a coroner has found.
James Dodds died during a hunting trip in September when close friend Henry Worsp, an outdoor safety manager and a hunter for 17 years, mistook him for a deer. The pair had split up, as they often did while hunting together, for about 30 minutes before the fatal shooting.
Worsp was convicted of careless use of a firearm causing death, and was sentenced to six months' home detention and 250 hours' community service.
At an inquest into his death on Friday, Mr Dodds' widow, Gabrielle Molloy, said the only way to stop the same thing happening again was to ensure people did not fire after they became separated from their hunting partners.
She said such a rule should be added to the Arms Code so people were aware of the dangers.
In his findings published last night, coroner Wallace Bain agreed with Ms Molloy and said previous findings recommending the same thing had been ignored.
He cited two high-profile accidents: one involving William Gillies, who was shot in the head by his friend Bernard Lee near Lake Taupo in 2005; the other involving teacher Rosemary Ives, who was killed by a hunting group while brushing her teeth at a campsite near Turangi in 2010.
Mr Lee was found not guilty after a jury trial. Andrew Mears, who shot Ms Ives, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served 11 months of a 2-year jail sentence.
The inquest into Mr Gillies' death identified the importance of hunters identifying their targets and recommended that, when hunting in pairs, neither should fire until they had visual contact with their hunting companion.
"It is tragic to now have to revisit a hunting death in circumstances such as set out in the evidence at this inquest, and to note that, if the recommendations in the Gillies inquest had been followed and become part of the law, there is a high probability Mr Dodds would still be alive today."
Both the Gillies and Ives inquest findings recommended changing the law to shift the onus on to the hunter to prove they were not at fault.
Dr Bain's findings into the death of Mr Dodds recommended the Law Commission and Government urgently investigate the range of charges available as a result of hunting accidents. He also recommended amending the Firearms Safety Code to include a rule that hunting must cease when partners lose sight of each other.
But New Zealand Deerstalkers' Association national president Timothy McCarthy said he believed the code was adequate and the rule meaning a hunter had to identify a target before firing made the suggestion redundant.
"It all boils down to identifying the target. You're not going to squeeze the trigger unless you know what you're aiming at."
He was not an advocate of harsher penalties, believing it was more constructive to encourage hunters to first consider every target to be a possible human.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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