A father has been jailed for hiding his daughter so she couldn't testify against his friend, who was accused of molesting her, in what is believed to be the first case of its kind.
The Auckland man kept his daughter in hiding for a week, and in jailing him last week for perverting the course of justice, Judge David Harvey criticised his apparent efforts to protect his friend.
Legal experts are unable to recall anyone being jailed on such a charge for hiding a witness. It was more usual to intimidate a witness. The charge arose after the man's friend was charged with two counts of sexual violation against the man's 10-year-old daughter.
The girl was supposed to testify at the man's trial in October 2011. Police had taken the girl on a familiarisation tour of the courts and she was going to be cross-examined by CCTV rather than be in court with the accused.
When it came to the day of the trial, however, the father took the girl away and kept her hidden for a week. He did not answer phone calls or text messages.
The trial was postponed and, when located, the man was arrested for perverting the course of justice.
At trial, the man argued he was "acting in his daughter's best interest", a protestation Judge Harvey "rejected utterly".
"It seemed to me throughout you wanted to be in control of what happened in the arena of your family's activities and I cannot discount the very strong suspicion that I have that there could well have been some element of protection of your friend involved in making the witness unavailable," he said.
Judge Harvey said the father had a "continued hostility to the process starting . . . well before the incident itself".
In a 24-minute interview with the police officer in charge of the sexual abuse case, the father mentioned his daughter's welfare only once, the judge said.
When it came to the court orientation visit, the father became angry and claimed he had not given permission for it to occur.
"There was a determination in your mind, in my view, to abort the process," the judge said in the Auckland District Court last week.
He sentenced the man to two-and-a-half years in jail.
Auckland University law professor Scott Optican had not heard of a similar case. Threatening witnesses was more common.
"Actually physically hiding a witness, that's an interesting one."
Kim McGregor, the executive director of Rape Prevention Education, said the case highlighted how difficult it was for some children to disclose abuse.
There was often pressure from a family member to not disclose, particularly because most sexual abuse was committed by someone they knew, McGregor said.
Many children refrained from telling anyone because they knew someone in the family would have a "very strong reaction".
McGregor said research showed a high percentage of child sex-abuse disclosures were retracted.
It was important to develop "communities" around children that they felt comfortable with opening up to, she said.
- Sunday Star Times