Roast Busters case: No charges to be laid

IAN STEWARD AND KELLY DENNETT
Last updated 17:00 29/10/2014
Stuff.co.nz

Police announce they won't charge men in relation to Roast Busters sex case.

Roast Busters
INVESTIGATED: Joseph Parker, left, and Beraiah Hales were identified as the leaders of a group known as the Roast Busters, after they boasted online of having sex with drunken, underage girls.

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The police officer in charge of the Roast Busters sex investigation has made clear she would have liked to charge those involved and another high-ranking officer has asked: "Where was the respect for these girls?"

Police identified 35 young men as "persons of interest" during the case but say they will not be laying charges as there is not a reasonable chance of getting a conviction.

This follows a lengthy operation dubbed Operation Clover. The West Auckland teen group came to prominence last year with videos of themselves online boasting about having sex with drunk, underage girls. 

Police said they had been investigating the group since 2011 after girls as young as 13 had come forward to lay complaints.

Today the scope of the investigation was revealed, with police saying that 35 males were assessed as "persons of interest" and 110 girls were canvassed.

Police said 25 girls who were believed to be victims of some form of sexual offending refused to provide formal statements.

However, a further five girls approached by police did make formal statements. Those five joined two girls who had already contacted police but whose complaints had languished until media attention brought the case to prominence.

All but two of the men investigated were over 17 with the oldest being 25. Five of the males were identified as suspects and were investigated for sexual violation by rape and sexual conduct with a person under 16.

Three were interviewed while two others declined. Two of the chief suspects interviewed were "adamant that all sexual interactions were consensual in nature," the report said.

Police said one of the males had provided "what could amount to eye witness or admissible evidence to the sexual activity of other males" but none of the girls in those incidents would give a formal statement.

"Police acknowledge that the basis for interviews of the majority was hearsay and rumour and wish to make it clear... that there is little evidence in existence to accuse the majority of persons of interest of being engaged in criminal sexual offending."

Detective Inspector Karyn Malthus said today that the decision not to charge came about due to a range of factors including "evidential tests under the Solicitor General's prosecution guidelines".

"These state that there must be a reasonable prospect of conviction for police to initiate a conviction."

Other factors included "the wishes of individual victims, the admissible evidence available, the nature of the offence and the age of the parties at the time of the offending".

Malthus said she was satisfied "every investigative avenue" was pursued, though she left the door open to further action saying there was no time limit on reporting sexual offending and any future disclosures would be assessed and investigated.

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"This is an important message to potential victims who have decided not to seek police assistance at this time," she said.

When questioned, Malthus agreed she would have liked to been able to prosecute but what they had did not pass the evidence test.

She said it was "concerning" that one of the men involved was 25.

Assistant police commissioner Grant Nicholls spoke at length about how the men had taken to social media to boast.

"Where was the respect for these girls? Where was it? That's a really basic question."

Police said as a result of analysis of social media - mainly of Facebook and Askfm - they contacted the 110 girls, with 44 re-approached for clarification.

There was an over-riding fear among the girls of bullying by their peers as well as fear of being exposed by the media.

"There was sufficient information available that confirmed their fears as reality," a police summary said.

Though police decided not to prosecute, Malthus said the investigation highlighted some significant issues for New Zealand including the concerning prevalence of alcohol in teenagers' lives and the poor understanding among males and females as to what "consent" was in a sexual setting.

"In addition there was an equally poor understanding by these teenagers as to the role alcohol consumption played in potentially negating the ability to consent," Malthus said.

An alleged victim said, ahead of the announcement, that she had not been contacted by police about the investigation coming to a conclusion.

"I'm not at all surprised if police have decided they're not pressing charges... they should have kept in touch with me."

Another of the alleged victims said she "wasn't surprised" police had decided not to press charges and only heard from police minutes before today's scheduled press conference. 

"(The police officer) was very rude. She asked me if I was recording the call. 

"I guess it was nice of them to call it was a bit random after all this time." 

She hoped the announcement would bring some closure for her. 

"It is what it is. I'm not surprised - it was obvious nothing was going to be done."

The father of another teenage girl who complained to police said a lot of parents would be upset with the decision, but that he understood that many girls involved who chose not to complain, did so because their parents wouldn't allow them. 

"The other girls were being protected by their parents... which I don't see as protecting. How can we do anything about the rape culture if people as blatant as (these boys) get away with it?"

He was dismayed at the decision not to press charges. 

"What does 'lack of evidence' actually mean?" 

Police had reached out to him in the hours before today's press conference and suggested he keep a close eye on his daughter.  

She had said little to him so far about how she was feeling, but he suspected she just wanted to get on with her life. 

She had earlier declined to press charges against the suspects and as a result police told him the investigation would close.

"They basically said they were closing the file a while ago... but they were making it clear that they would re open it if the girls wanted to [press charges]."

He believed the girls involved were worried about bullying if they went public. 

"It's a really daunting prospect." 

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse said he could understand why some victims were reluctant to go through the police process.

"The police have worked very hard to make sure that the young women at the centre of this investigation are well supported, that they have all the information and that they're protected, in a way, from the process, and I'm satisfied they've done a very good job with that."

He said he could understand ‘‘that the decision may disappoint some’’. 

‘‘There are plenty of things we can learn from this case and I'll be working with police and those agencies to understand what those learnings are."

Woodhouse said there was a second part of the Independent Police Conduct Authority report yet to be released.

TIMELINE OF EVENTS:


2011 and 2012: Four girls make complaints to Waitemata police about youth at West Auckland high schools called 'the Roast Busters'.  One girl had gone through the process of making her complaint formal via an evidential video interview.

November 2013: A victim  told 3 News that one of the youths allegedly involved was referred to sexual offending counselling by police but never went, and she also claimed one of her attackers was the son of a police officer.

Inspector Bruce Scott said no charges had been laid because no girls had been "brave enough" to come forward and do so. Later it emerged one had made a formal complaint. Then Police Commisioner Peter Marshall told Radio New Zealand: "Anyone would think we're the bad guys in the situation." 

May 2014: The Independent Police Conduct Authority release their findings on police communication to media about the Roast Busters, and found their had been several systemic failings and a "breakdown in communication." 

October 19, 2014: Police say the investigation is on going and alleged victims writes open letter about case. "The information gathered across the course of the investigation is still being assessed by police, following a review by a Crown legal team, " the spokeswoman said.

October 29, 2014: Police announce no charges will be laid.

- Stuff

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